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Following on from my recent review of one of Robert De Niro’s last great movies, Casino, I had the opportunity to take a look at his most recent effort, Hide and Seek. His last few films have certainly not lived up to his indisputable acting ability—renowned as being the definitive method actor—but at least with comedy he had the excuse that it was not his forté, when he plays it straight he should be at the top of his game. His biggest problem, I think, is the material, but it is a telling sign that he has not had a decent director to collaborate with since the turn of the Millennium. After working with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, John Polson—the director of the unusual teen version of Fatal Attraction, Swimfan—does not really compare, but I still hoped that somehow we would see a glimmer of the old De Niro.

Hide and Seek
Emily is a lovely little girl brought up by a warm, caring mother and father in New York City. However, when tragedy befalls the family, the father—a psychologist—moves away to the country to help his daughter recover from the trauma. Trying his best to provide her with new friends and even outside therapy when necessary, he finds that she gets increasingly disturbed in her behaviour, exhibiting split-personality tendencies spawning from the horrible incident that she witnessed. Although the set-up is fairly basic, the movie plays on the mundane nature of most of the story, letting it lull you into having a false sense of security and then giving you some nice shocks. There is nothing wildly original about the story, but it is perfectly watchable and occasionally quite disturbing, even if you do notice that almost an hour goes by without anything happening and see the ending coming a mile off.

And I expect more from Robert De Niro. Just as his character struggles in the story, he too seems to be struggling with the mediocrity of his movie choices, never breaking a sweat while he phones-in his average performances. Playing the father here he seems to constantly have to restrain his acting talents and behave in an almost boring manner. I guess that the problem is that his character leaves little room to be exceptional—even towards the end—but that makes it doubly shameful that De Niro chose to do the movie. Conversely, Dakota Fanning is clearly at the top of her game and thoroughly believable as the daughter who purportedly has two personalities and certainly exhibits some disturbing behaviour. After playing a superb role in the excellent Denzel Washington thriller Man on Fire (that could have been De Niro’s comeback vehicle had he not pulled out of it), she is soon to be seen in the new Cruise/Spielberg collaboration, War of the Worlds. At such a young age, she is simply superb and seemingly ideal to all of the roles that she has been selected for, promising her a great future in the industry.

Apart from these two leads there are some nice secondary roles parts for actresses like Elisabeth Shue—who deserves better than her last few films after Leaving Las Vegas—and Famke Janssen, who has had a reasonable amount of success from Goldeneye but still has not really excelled in anything. Amy Irving (Alias, Traffic), Melissa Leo (21 Grams, Homicide) and Robert Burke (Dustdevil, Robocop 3) also get cameo roles but no real room to shine.

Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is not going to win any awards, nor is it a worthy addition to one’s De Niro collection, but it is still quite easy watching, with a dark theme running throughout and a few nice twists towards the disappointing ending even if some are predictable. In much the same way as the Sharon Stone / Dennis Quaid mystery horror/drama Cold Creek Manor, this small-scale nominally unsettling drama is nothing to rave about but still slightly enticing. It is a tiny step up for De Niro after the true horror that was Godsend, but he has a long, long way to go before he is back at the top of his game.

Hide and Seek is presented with a solid 2.40:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. The director makes the most of his broader framing—most notably during the credits sequence—considering the limited nature of the material and there is very good detail throughout. Although there is no grain present, some of the scenes exhibit a slight sheen of hazing, but it is generally very clear and almost pristine. The colour scheme is fairly limited by the dour nature of the material—little seems to be sunny in this film, funnily enough—but the colours are always represented well and the blacks are solid just like the reds are bloody. A recent, decent transfer that is not exceptional, but still looks pretty damn good.

There are two solid audio tracks in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1. Obviously the DTS track is the favourable one, but both are superb efforts, with excellent attention to the dialogue but brilliant use of the surrounds for the jumpy moments—of which there are a few. The effects are well represented and startling and the music is misleadingly benign, often hiding the shocks cleverly. Overall we get some decent surround use for this score and nice directionality throughout—and even if it is not the most rousing effort, it is still quietly powerful. And as I’ve stated, although the DTS track has the edge, there really is not a great deal between the two and the Dolby 5.1 effort is perfectly acceptable. Certainly the audio presentation is particularly noteworthy for this release.

Hide and Seek
First up there is an audio commentary with the director of Hide and Seek, John Polson, editor Jeffrey Ford and screenwriter Ari Schlossberg. They mainly talk in detail about the many different versions of the film that were put together, with alternate beginnings, alternate placement of the scenes and scenes cut out. They discuss the cast, in particular the genius of Dakota Fanning, unnecessarily praising De Niro for a phoned-in performance. They seem to be quite immodest considering that this is a rather average production, but I guess it was their baby and if you really liked it then it is interesting to grab these little titbits about the production.

The making of is entitled ‘Do You Want to Play?’ and runs for ten minutes, featuring behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew. The director talks about how moving the movie was (it wasn’t—and the examples he gives of what moved him are all moot given the ending) and Dakota Fanning is chirpy as ever in interview, discussing how much she loved the story and how much fun the production was. She mentions how great it was working with De Niro—even though he is nowhere to be seen in the featurette—but it is a shame that she did not get to work with him at his best. The producer pops up to explain the story unnecessarily and some of the smaller cast members have their little say about the script, unfortunately not discussing their characters very much, although they do all praise Dakota Fanning. They do show you some background footage and it is not a bad featurette—with Elisabeth Shue and Famke Janssen partaking in the interview work—but with nothing from De Niro even here and a little too much self-praise from the rest of them, it left me cold. Be warned as well—even though they explain the plot as if this were suitable for a person who has not seen the main film—this is an extremely revealing featurette revealing almost everything important up to and including the ending.

There are four alternate endings, each only a couple of minutes in length. ‘Happy Drawing’ is an all-out ‘happy’ ending, in as much as it can be, ‘Life with Katherine’ and ‘Emily’s Fate’ are both slightly more unhappy than the theatrical ending but, to me, they were both better and ‘One Final Game’ is just an extension of the original ending. None of them change the ending vastly, at least not enough to make up for the predictable twist and appalling degeneration of the story towards the end. The endings also have audio commentary by director John Polson, editor Jeffrey Ford and screenwriter Ari Schlossberg who clearly all got it wrong but still insist that they got the whole film right the way it was. Strangely the main menu enables you to watch the film with any one of these endings, a pointless gimmick given that none of them change the film a great deal and that you would not watch the whole film again just to see the effect of the minor change.

Hide and Seek
There are also fourteen deleted scenes—totalling nineteen minutes of extra footage—with optional commentary by director John Polson, editor Jeffrey Ford and screenwriter Ari Schlossberg, who all explain why they were removed. It seems strange to argue pacing reasons because the film was pretty short as it was but, that said, none of these scenes particularly make the movie better, although one or two add to the characters a bit more. Unfortunately that would only make you care for them more before they all get ruined. Still, it is always quite nice to get more De Niro, however bad his form is—and almost all of the deleted footage features him.

There are three pre-vis sequences: ‘Charlie Chases Emily’, ‘Katherine Confronts Charlie’ and ‘Final Moments between David and Emily’, totalling three minutes if played consecutively. These are scenes from the movie that originally had extra shots in them which were never filmed—here you get to see the footage that was filmed interspliced with the original storyboards. All of them have compulsory commentary by the director, explaining why the storyboards were never shot and what exactly is going on in some of them. They are all quite interesting to watch but only the third one should have been kept with, making the ending slightly better.

Finally there is a general Fox trailer for movies like Alien, X-Men, Die Hard and Braveheart on disc start-up, followed by full trailers for the interesting new film from Woody Allen, Melinda & Melinda, the pointless but sturdy adventure Flight of the Phoenix and the quirky Liam Neeson film, Kinsey. After an annoying advert for Mars we also get the theatrical trailer for the new summer blockbuster comic book adaptation, Fantastic Four (which gives away almost the entire story).

Hide and Seek
It is quite natural to expect a great deal from Robert De Niro—given how great an actor he is—but if you try to forget that this is a De Niro movie and watch it as a drama/horror you may still enjoy a few shock moments. There is an eerily good performance by Fanning and some nice cameos by some famous faces and however average De Niro plays it, he is still a quality actor—even if this is not a good example of that. The presentation is pretty damn good—with a solid video transfer and two exceptional audio tracks, along with a bucket-full of decent extras. If you like this kind of shock-tastic psychological mystery horror/drama then you might be pleasantly intrigued by it, but don’t expect it to hold its own against any De Niro classic in your collection. If you want to give it a shot they I highly recommend rental by me, but it is a dubious purchase for all but strong fans of the genre or devote followers of the method master.