A stunning, appropriately photogenic murder mystery in which a controversial photographer (Faye Dunaway) apparently sees the murders of people she knows as they happen. Suspicion is evenly distributed between the titular protagonist, her catty agent (Rene Auberjonois), her driver with a violent criminal record (Brad Dourif), the detective investigating her case (Tommy Lee Jones), her drunken loser of an ex-husband (Raul Julia) and a host of other characters, most of whom are gradually eliminated as suspects after being cleared by evidence...or murdered.
Irvin Kershner's succeeding position as director of The Empire Strikes Back must have been assured when he helmed this film. His technique is immaculate: perfectly framed static shots, graceful, sweeping pans and hazy hand-held angles that convey the nightmarish murders from the killer's perspective are all highlights of Kershner's deft direction, and are rendered magnificent by Victor J. Kemper's lush photography.
I certainly hope that John Carpenter was well paid for this movie's excellent screenplay, the plot and characterizations of which are more complex and carefully defined than those of his own films! Carpenter has always been an inventive screenwriter, but I had no idea that he was capable of creating characters and scenarios of such nuance. The result is far superior to the psych thrillers that were far more widely celebrated over a decade after this feature's release.
Forceful performances by a fine, familiar cast make the most of this film's technical magnificence and keen story. Perfectly cast, Dunaway is as overwhelmingly emotive as she is physically striking; very few American lead actresses in contemporary films have been able to present such fervid characterizations so convincingly. It's interesting to see a couple of future stars among the ranks of the supporting roles; like the lead, these players do not disappoint.
The production design is surely an artifact of the disco-driven late '70s - the sets, costumes, music, etc. are as glittery and overwrought as anything that could be expected of the period. Eyes of Laura Mars isn't just a great horror mystery. It's a time capsule, a period piece that reveled in its moment just as Wall Street did in the '80s. But while the peculiarities of its presentation are quintessentially 1978, the quality of this classic is undeniable.
As DVD editions come, this Columbia/Sony production is quite adequate. The restoration of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio was essential; in pan-and-scan 1.33:1, it just doesn't work - every shot is either claustrophobic and/or obviously incomplete. The transfer quality is nice, taken from a slightly gritty but beautifully vibrant print. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is just fine - unexceptional, but clear and well-balanced.
Sony's North American DVDs are all Region 1 encoded, and I don't know why they include subtitles in many of them for so many languages that aren't widely spoken in NA. Go figure! Subs for this disc are available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai; the European subs are rendered in yellow text, their Asian counterparts in white. All of these are bright, easy to read and well-translated. The scene selection menus consist of twenty-eight thumbnail film stills distributed across seven screens, and are easily navigated.
Most of the special features are interesting, though none could be described as essential. Irvin Kershner's commentary track contains far too much exposition - he describes what's going on shot-by-shot, explaining what's plainly obvious while barely touching on the story's more interesting subtleties. As one of the strengths of Eyes is its carefully measured and limited exposition, this is hardly enjoyable. Kershner is a terrible orator who possesses an excellent memory, and the highlights of this commentary involve his reminisces concerning the film's production. He has many kind words for the cast and crew but incredibly, he doesn't ONCE mention Victor Kemper, whose gorgeous photography was so essential to this picture's success. Be forewarned - Kershner reveals the identity of the killer fairly early in this commentary, so if you haven't seen this yet, do so without it enabled.
Also included is a seven-minute promotional featurette titled Visions, which I assume was broadcast on TV in 1978, as it's shot/matted in 1.33:1. It features a brief, decent interview with Dunaway interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage shot on location, some interesting photography of NYC and footage from the movie.
A montage of publicity photos and glamor shots of Dunaway, Eyes on Laura is narrated by the producer of the DVD, who explains many of the scenes, elements and details omitted from and added to the many drafts of the script that distinguish the enormous difference between John Carpenter's original story and what became the finished film.
Finally, two extra trailers for Single White Female and No Mercy serve to remind us all how Columbia and its Tri-Star subsidiary habitually threw loads of money at awful productions, even after Coca-Cola sold all of their entertainment holdings to Sony in '89.