Human Factor, The (US - DVD)
Gabe Powers is The Human Factor, and he has a very humane review for you...
John Kinsdale (George Kennedy) is a seemingly loving family man working as a NATO computer specialist in Naples, Italy. One night he comes home from work to find that political terrorists have cold bloodedly murdered his entire family. Broken, John uses his technological prowess to track and hunt down the cold-blooded killers. His friends and co-workers try to prevent him from taking the law into his own hands. But nothing can prevent John from his bloody brand of grief-stricken vengeance.
So then, we've got Death Wish with a better actor and some computers, right? Well, yes and no. The Human Factor is not high art, and at its base it is a simple revenge flick, but it is smarter than the average angry bereft melodrama, and it did predate Chuck Bronson's ode de punishment, according to the participants.
In its favour, the film has some real legs, and rarely lets up. Had it not been for George Kennedy's riveting performance, however, this may've been a hindrance, as we aren't given much of a chance to feel for any of our characters. John's family is merely a means to an end for filmmaker Edward Dmytyk, making the final product a bit more Dirty Harry than Unforgiven. The action is tight and unmistakably early '70s, meaning its down, dirty, lo-fi, and analogue.
Stylistically this is a great entree into the '70s action canon, calling to mind The French Connection, Get Carter, and Bullitt. There's even a decent car chase. The problem is that these stylistic choices tend to feel a bit tacked on, as if the crew had an action movie checklist on set. It all looks good, but there isn't much here for originality.
The originality comes with the story, which is successful, again, purely due to the efforts of Kennedy and the other actors. It's your basic get back at the bad guys, nothing left to live for, Western drama, just stuck in modern Italy with a slight Sci-Fi garnish. The Sci-Fi I speak of is, of course, the computer programming stuff John does for a living, specifically program nine eleven (oooo, spooky life imitating art alert). Unfortunately these computers are never properly explained, and act more like a plot hole filler than an actual plot device. Anytime a character is in need of vital information he need only ask a computer, but how the computer came to this information is questionable logic at best.
My personal problem with the film is the fact that it doesn't really have the courage to delve deep enough into the moral right of John's actions, something sorely lacking in most revenge-based film. On screen, we prefer our vigilantes to be the heroes, but rarely does a film have the guts to make the vigilante into the bad guy. The idea is briefly covered in the film, as all the people around John seem to think his actions are villainous, but the film itself seems to tell us all is well, especially when it oh so tackily ends with a title card recounting containing the entire 'eye for an eye' Bible passage. Park Chan-wok's revenge films were special not only for their visual grandeur, but due to the fact that they had the courage to allow their protagonists to lose. This is not a politically based opinion, just one of a guy who's seen his fair share of revenge operas. If I wanted to cheer as a lone gunman killed off a bunch of criminal garbage I'd just watch Death Wish.
Poor Dark Sky, they're going to forever pale in the shadow of their impeccable Texas Chain Saw Massacre re-release. In comparison to that transfer, this one isn't too good. In comparison to other transfers from smaller companies, this one isn't too bad. There's a lot of filmgrain, track lines, and overall artefacting here, enough to notice, but not enough to make one turn the film off. The colours are nice, and black levels decent. Sometimes overall darker scenes are a bit obscured in grain, but detail levels are sharp. Only a deep cleaning is needed to put this transfer over the top. As is, I call it average.
The original Mono presentation sounds fine. Ennio Morricone's score is quite haunting, and adds a level of menace to ever scene in the film. It's almost a horror movie score. As always, such a fine score could do with some sprucing up, but the rest of the film's audio works fine as a single channel. There's a slight lack of dynamic range, but very little distortion, and dialogue is always clear. Overall a fine effort, but not a memorable one.
This single disc presentation at first seems very bare bones, with only an interview with star George Kennedy, a few trailers, and a still gallery, but looks can be deceiving. The deciding factor here (see what I did there? Clever aren't I?) is the fact that Kennedy's interview is surprisingly enthralling. Kennedy, who's definitely looking his age, gives us a full rundown on his life in entertainment, from radio, to the Academy Awards, to The Human Factor. He's the kind of guy any man would love as a father or grandfather, a real stand-up fellow. Surprisingly he remembers quite a bit about The Human Factor despite the fact that the film never saw release in the United States, and was a pretty small production to boot.
The trailers are trailers, and do their job, and the still gallery has some buffo posters that I'd love to have on my wall.
So what we have here is a good looking, exciting little action film, with a clumsy Sci-Fi-ish side plot, a great central performance, and a lack of deeper insight. If that sounds good to you, than you'll most likely excite in the release of this once lost 'gem'. If you want to see a great '70s crime-drama, see Point Blank, The French Connection, Get Carter, or Dirty Harry. If you've already seen all those films, give this one a try. It may not totally quench one's thirst for creative originality, but it won't waste your time either.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 31st October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Extras: The Kennedy Factor: An Interview with George Kennedy, Trailers, Stills
Easter Egg: No
Director: Edward Dmytyk
Cast: George Kennedy, John Mills, Raf Vallone, Barry Sullivan, Rita Tushingham, Arthur Franz
Length: 96 minutes
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