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DVD Review

DVD cover

Daniel (1983)
(2019 Reissue)


Starring: Timothy Hutton, Mandy Patinkin, Lindsay Crouse, Edward Asner and Peter Friedman
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £9.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 25 March 2019

In the 1930’s, Daniel's parents feel that they are part of a growing historical movement when they join the communist party. Their fervour for the cause brings them to the attention of the authorities and they are charged with sharing atomic secrets with the Soviets. Many years later, their son Daniel tries to unearth the truth about his parents and their legacy...

Daniel (1983. 2 hrs, 09 min, 09 sec) is a drama from the renowned director, Sidney Lumet. The script was adapted by E.L. Doctorow from his original book. Although he denied the story was about the Rosenberg’s, it could hardly be about anyone else.

The film is somewhat of a confusing event for anyone who does not live within the United States, or who does not remember the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for allegedly selling atomic secrets to an enemy state. Without that knowledge the partisan, but annoyingly vague approach the film takes is bound to confuse.

The film opens with Daniel (Timothy Hutton) recounting a form of brutal execution, something which he repeats throughout the film. Split into two time frames, differentiated by their colour pallets, the past is, at times almost sepia, whereas Daniel's adult life is tinged with greens and blues.

I didn’t go to see this when it was first released, so I am unable to tell if the excessively soft tone of the film is an issue with the DVD or an original artistic decision by Lumet. It is worse in the flashback to his parents’ story and so may represent the fogginess of memory.

Much, but not all, of the flashbacks are from Daniel’s POV, but these can’t just be his memories as much happens when he is not around. There are times when his parents, Paul (Mandy Patinkin) and Rochelle (Lindsay Crouse) are not with the children and Daniel could not have known what was happening at the time.

The structure of the movie has Daniel travelling around trying to find people who can answer what happened to his parents. Their execution has a profound effect on Daniel and his sister, Susan (Amanda Plummer). Susan is a very broken woman, psychiatrically overwhelmed and permanently distressed. Daniel is no less effected, but he turns his pain and anger into a journey to make some sense of his life.

This is the part which lets the film down. Given that you have structured your political film as a journey towards the truth, the movie backs out at the last minute in deciding the truth of the matter. This may be valid considering how the Rosenberg’s guilt or innocence has fluctuated since their execution, but it makes for a less than satisfying end to the story.

The DVD only has a single extra, the original theatrical trailer (1 min, 08 sec).


Charles Packer

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