Movie Review: Dick Tracy

Posted: February 22, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
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Dick Tracy (1990 Touchstone Pictures Dir. Warren Beatty)


A lot of people don’t seem to like this movie, which I can’t fully understand. I find this to be an amazing, subjective piece art. The color scheme is amazing, the story is unpretentiously simplistic and it’s unashamedly unrealistic. Why should a comic strip have to be objectively real? Why should a movie based on a comic be realistic at all? Just because it’s not real doesn’t mean it has to be campy or stupid. In many ways I don’t actually like the current trend of trying to make a story about a man dressed as a bat or a guy wearing mechanized armor realistic. This doesn’t even try to be realistic, it doesn’t care about realism, it just wants to have a good time. Do you remember that? Just having fun at the movies? This is just a bit of fun.


Either this is a compliment to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, or it’s meant to be an answer to it. In a way, it seems that this could take place in the same world as Batman did about 50 years earlier. It’s got the same artificial feeling, the same sense of fun and the same sort collection of hats. If not that, then this was Beatty saying that Batman should have taken the comic book aspects further. I don’t think another movie, save for possibly Sin City, ever took the idea of recreating a comic page as far as this movie has. Even in the case of Sin City, that was just making the comic book move rather than actually making a world where these stories could exist. This is a complete world, even if it’s a fake world that only exists in this movie you still know it continues outside of the frame of the screen. It might not be a real world, but it feels like a full world.


The character designs are another thing that really sells this movie. None of the villains in the movie go without a bit of latex make up. They look A good number of the good guys have make up jobs too. For the most part, the actors end up really looking like the cartoons characters they’re supposed to be portraying. It’s rare you see this many big names playing small parts in a comic book movie, and rarer still for so many of them to have obscured their famous features under a load of make up. I can’t think of another movie with this many well-known people playing bit and small parts. This even results in the fact that I didn’t know James Caan was in this until about two years ago. I just never noticed it before, yet there he was. There’s a lot of that in this movie. One can argue that there are actually too many baddies, so that full-fledged independent characters are reduced to the level of thugs. That is a perfectly valid argument, and it does hurt a little.


The story of this movie is actually pretty engaging, if slightly cliché in places. Yeah, we’ve seen the whole “I’m taking over this town” storyline before, we’ve seen the “I just need a witness to take the crime boss down” storyline a few dozen times and we’ve all seen the “dark horse frames the hero” story more times than you’ve had hot dinners. This assumes you’ve only had about twenty hot dinners of course. I would argue though that you don’t really need new storylines for this. New isn’t needed so much as interesting and exciting. Sadly, some of the action isn’t as exciting as it should be. The gun fights tend to just be people firing guns at the camera without giving you the impression that they’re actually shooting at anyone. It looks good, but for an action junkie there isn’t much there.


One of the things that does hurt this movie is Madonna’s inclusion in the affair. It’s not even that Madonna is all that bad in the movie. It’s just that Warren Beatty allowed her to be a bit too sexualized and as a result, she comes off as too adult for the world they were trying to create. You’ve got a four-color world, with four-color restraints and here comes Madonna, acting in a way that just wasn’t appropriate for the comics page. The overt sexuality makes it sort of annoying, where as if she’d toned it down a little it would have been just as sexy and even cooler. However, when Madonna is kept in check, she’s okay.


All in all, this is still a great movie. The use of color is brilliant, the matte paintings are gorgeous, the characters seem to exist within the world and the story is at least decent and complete. At the very least, it remains faithful to its source material, which is more than a lot of movies have done over the years. I’ll agree this is a little silly, and not quite as OMG! SRS! as some movies, but I don’t want it to be serious and I want a little silly. Now and then, I like a lighthearted fantasy that doesn’t actually drift into the camp waters too much. This is such a movie, it’s not bad, check it out.

Official Score:
41 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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