Part coming-of-age drama and part urban crime thriller, 'The Narrows' is a film based on the novel "Heart of the Old Country" by author Tim McLoughlin. I can't comment on the book, but the movie plods along tediously and is comprised of so many overused themes and stereotypes that the end product is little more than a predictable test of one's patience.
The story follows nineteen year old Mike Manadoro (Kevin Zegers), an aspiring photographer born and raised in seedy south Brooklyn. Mike has dreams of uprooting from the rough neighborhood and going to college to hone his craft, except his current job at the car service owned by Big Lou (Tony Cucci) doesn't pay much, and his strict father Vinny (Vincent D'Onofrio) forbids him from taking any assistance to help pay for tuition. Just as all hope seems lost, Lou's brother and notorious local kingpin Tony (Titus Welliver) swoops in and presents Mike with a financial offer he simply can't refuse.
Now raking in more than enough money for school, Mike finds himself fast tracking his way to a better future. But straddling the fine line between two very different worlds is no easy task, and soon enough it becomes all too clear that his deal with the devil may have given the very life he desperately wanted to leave behind a permanent grip on his soul.
The script for 'The Narrows,' written by Tatiana Blackington (who apparently attended the same writer's workshop with McLoughlin when he was working on the novel), disappointed me because it doesn't really bring anything fresh to the table. It's evident that the story was inspired by other urban crime dramas ('Goodfellas,' 'Mean Streets' etc.), but the trouble is that the situations, dialog, and characters are all too mechanical and cliché.
Worse still, director François Velle not only amplifies these issues, but even adds some of his own. There are scenes that drag on for far too long, others which become repetitive, and there are one or two cases that appear to be a setup for another event, except they end up going absolutely nowhere, almost like a scene is missing. Another problem is that while the bluesy soundtrack is catchy, that doesn't mean the tunes should be incorporated into nearly every scene. Quite often the music goes against the grain of what's happening on screen, and sometimes it keeps playing over conversations when it really should have faded out. It's just sloppy and amateurish, and bugged me to no end.
As for the performances, we do have a few that keep the film from becoming totally forgettable. Welliver ('Deadwood') is a fantastic character actor, and he embodies the cold and callous Tony with chilling rigor. Even better is D'Onofrio ('Law and Order: Criminal Intent') whose eccentricities and quirks once again make him the most interesting and multidimensional persona on screen. It also doesn't hurt that he's the ultimate New Yorker, in fact in the past two years his movies are even starting to form a virtual map of the area ('Brooklyn's Finest,' 'Staten Island,' and 'The Narrows.'). Despite this solid casting, though, the very attractive Sophia Bush as Kathy wasn't given enough material, Eddie Cahill as Nicky Shades is entertaining but still miscast, and although Zegers was pretty solid, his acting here occasionally feels forced and unnatural. This becomes most noticeable when his character is arguing with Kathy or his fiancée Gina (Monica Keena) where his movements and line delivery seem more like a rehearsal.
'The Narrows' is one of those films that aims to deliver a surprise twist ending, it's just that getting there is one heck of a tiresome ordeal. The payoff isn't much of a shocker to be honest, and likely appears stronger than it really is since everything leading up to this point is just so toilsome.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment presents 'The Narrows' on a single-layered BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up to the menu screen. The U.S. version of the release is also reported to be region-locked and therefore will only function properly in Region A compatible PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
Apparently 'The Narrows' was filmed in high-definition, and the Blu-ray is equipped with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) encode. The transfer looks fairly decent, though it does have a few issues.
The scenes out in the daylight appear the sharpest, offering some dimensionality and finer detailing. Colors are strongest here, if slightly washed out, and contrast is solid. Facial features reveal moderate detail and texture in close-ups, but are still a bit soft overall. There's also a hint of grain that is nearly unnoticeable.
Most of the transfer's warts show up in the darker scenes and in certain interiors. Grain becomes heavier, although I wouldn't call it distracting or noisy. Depth is also lacking here. I'm sure it was a stylish intent, but sometimes there's weird lighting that casts bright greenish-yellow patches on skin tones, making characters almost look like they are suffering from some sort of radiation sickness. Black levels also aren't bad, but there is periodic crushing, especially in shadowy areas. I did notice a couple of minimal posterization and blocking hiccups as well. Fortunately, the image doesn't seem to be plagued by frequent artifacting, DNR, or edge enhancement.
Like I said, the picture quality is good, it just isn't all that great, either.
Image Entertainment serves up a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/16-bit) soundtrack for this Blu-ray, and it's an okay mix considering this is a low budget feature.
Dialogue can sound a tad muffled in places, although it's generally clean and distinguishable. The presentation is also primarily front heavy, with the only real surround activity being minor neighborhood ambience and occasional score bleed. The bluesy soundtrack comes across sounding tinny at times as well, however on the plus side the music is lined with pretty decent bass. The movie isn't exactly loaded with shootouts, but the handful of gunshots pack some nice weight, too. While 'The Narrows' doesn't have a flashy sound design by any means, in all fairness I've definitely heard much worse.
The disc also includes optional English and Spanish subtitles.
The Blu-ray release includes all of the supplements found on the standard DVD. All of the content is presented in standard-definition.
A couple of decent performances can't save 'The Narrows' from drowning in the sea of banality. The Blu-ray has good--not great--audio and video, and the supplements don't offer much interesting insights unless you're a hardcore fan of this film. Unfortunately, I'm not. If you like gangster films, you would be wise to give this a rent first before making a purchase.