Blu-ray review: “The Music of Chance” (1993)

“The Music of Chance” (1993)

Drama

Running Time: 98 minutes

Written by: Paul Auster, Belinda Haas and Philip Haas based on The Music of Chance by Paul Auster

Directed by: Philip Haas

Featuring: James Spader, Mandy Patinkin, M. Emmet Walsh, Charles Durning, Joel Grey, Samantha Mathis and Chris Penn

Jack Pozzi: “No Problem partner I’ll show you my stuff you’ll be so impressed your mouth will drop right out of your head”

Critical Commentary

Released recently on Blu-ray on the Imprint label is the drama “The Music of Chance” (1993) based on a novel by Paul Auster and directed by Philip Haas which is extremely faithful to its source material. The film is a conundrum in that it has much that is appealing in a very good cast but veers off course a little as seemingly random events happen to drive the plot which at times seems a little unearned. An example of this are the main characters, Jim and Jack, who reveal isolated pieces of their past, but we never get a firm handle on who they are and what motivates them, this prevents us from forming any emotional attachments to them.

“The Music of Chance” can, like many films, be seen on many levels. At its most literal, it’s about the consequences of losing a poker game, which leads to the building of a wall. There is another level to analyse which is important as it reveals something about how people think their lives will go or actually are. Life itself However, for those who peel back the straightforward plot to peer at what lies beneath it, more imposing and thought-provoking issues are revealed. The Music of Chance explores how one moment can forever alter — and perhaps destroy — lives. It also reinforces the old saying that luck is too capricious a force to trust.

“The Music of Chance”  revolves around drifter Jim Nashe (Patinkin), who has just squandered a sizable inheritance, picks up Jack Pozzi (Spader), a battered, bruised, and broke gambler, on the side of a country road, neither can imagine how drastically their lives will change. Jack bemoans his lack of funds and inability to afford the $10,000 buy-in to play poker with Bill Flower (Durning) and Willy Stone (Grey), a couple of eccentric millionaires, at their remote estate. “It’s the chance of a lifetime,” Jack says. Jim agrees to front Jack the cash he needs for what Jack believes will be an easy score, but after starting strong, a string of bad hands cleans Jack out. Jim even sells his car to Flower and Stone in a desperate attempt to get Jack back on track, but Lady Luck abandons them. Now destitute and owing thousands to their gloating, fiendish hosts, Jim and Jack are forced into servitude to settle their debt. They reluctantly sign a contract that requires them to spend 50 days building a massive wall in a barren field from a pile of 10,000 stones supposedly culled from a 15th-century Irish castle. Though the hard-labour sentence bonds Jim and Jack, the back-breaking work breaks both their spirits in different ways over time.

All of the great actors in this film obviously enjoyed taking part in something quite unique with very individual takes on their own characters which is something they must have relished and it is fun seeing them going down very different roads. Of course when actors are given leeway they sometimes go to broad and it could be said that they all do this except for Mandy Patinkin who, like he does in some of this roles, goes for a minimalism that is may be too small compared to the others. 

Metaphors abound, from the “wailing wall” to the “City of the World” being built by Willie Stone. In fact, there’s so much symbolism that little in this movie has a single, straightforward meaning. There are times when the screenplay tries too hard to be intellectual, spouting such nonsense as prime numbers having souls, but these isolated instances in no way detract from the deeper meaning of the overall story. Character motivation and interaction are driving forces, and necessary for an understanding of everything that happens during “The Music of Chance”.

Technical Commentary

Video

Mediocre is the best adjective to describe the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, which is underwhelming at best and often looks faded and worn. No remastering or clean-up seems to have been performed on the source material, resulting in an image that’s missing the sharp lines and enhanced clarity of typical high-def renderings. The natural grain structure produces a film-like picture, but some shots exhibit more texture than others and a nagging fuzziness sporadically plagues the presentation. If you’re a fan of this 1990s curio, you’ll be disappointed by this lacklustre treatment.

Audio

The LPCM 2.0 stereo track supplies clear, well-modulated sound that’s devoid of any age-related hiss, pops, or crackle. All the conversations are clear and easy to comprehend and the myriad pregnant pauses are clean. Effects are limited in this dialogue-driven film, but screeching car wheels, fisticuffs, breaking dishes, and the sounds of stones crunching against each other are distinct.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary by film critic A.S. Hamrah
  • “Chance and Destiny,” a video essay by film scholar Adrian Martin and film critic 
  • Cristina Álvarez López
  • “A Character at a Time”: Interview with actor Joel Grey
  • “Defining the Character”: Interview with actor M. Emmet Walsh
  • “Music for Misguided Tasks”: Interview with composer Phillip Johnston

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