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Robert Altman
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte
Writing Credits:
Robert Altman, Frank Barhydt

A pair of kidnappings expose the complex power dynamics within the corrupt and unpredictable workings of 1930s Kansas City.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English PCM 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/3/2020

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Robert Altman
• “Geoff Andrew on Kansas City” Featurette
• Visual Essay by Luc Lagier
• Trailers & TV Spots
• Image Gallery


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
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-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Kansas City [Blu-Ray] (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2020)

After he achieved prominence in the 1970s, director Robert Altman struggled to remain relevant in the 1980s. Altman bounced back with 1992’s The Player, and he maintained a good reputation for the rest of his career despite some ups and downs.

I don’t think 1996’s Kansas City quite counts as a “down”, for it received generally good reviews. However, it made next to no money, and it essentially seemed to fade into the woodwork, as the movie didn’t appear to make much of a dent on the cinematic landscape.

Set in Kansas City circa 1934, Johnny O’Hara (Dermot Mulroney) gets by as a petty thief. His shenanigans backfire, though, and local gangster “Seldom Seen” (Harry Belafonte) imprisons him at a local nightclub.

As part of a scheme to free Johnny, his wife Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) kidnaps Carolyn Stilton (Miranda Richardson), the wife of local politician Henry Stilton (Michael Murphy). This leads to a mix of complications and a surprising friendship between Blondie and Carolyn.

No one ever accused Altman of being the world’s most plot-focused director, but his better films get around that potential drawback due to energy and interesting characters. Unfortunately, City can’t rely on either of those, so its unfocused narrative comes to the fore.

That makes the film a less than coherent adventure. Apparently Altman wanted to structure the movie in a way that reflects the looseness of the jazz music at its core, but this doesn’t work.

Rather than offer the spark and vivacity of good jazz, City just proceeds in a nearly random manner. At its heart, the movie wants to concentrate on Blondie and Carolyn, and they indeed both spend time at the fore.

However, Altman casts a wide enough net that the film meanders around other roles too much of the time, and this leads to a less than coherent plot. Though we follow connected events, the movie comes with little real build or momentum.

City comes across as Altman’s catchall homage to 1930s/1940s movies. He mixes noir and screwball comedy in uneasy measures and can’t find a way to balance the tonal shifts.

Though City boasts a nice cast, the actors can’t do much with their roles, and Leigh causes distractions due to the heavily “period” style she fancies. Altman explains that Blondie behaves that way because she lives her life as influenced by Jean Harlow and other period actors, and I get that take.

However, this never seems clear to the viewer. Rather than understand that Blondie plays up these cinematic trends as part of her character, we just think that Leigh decided to perform in that manner.

This leaves her as an odd outlier among the rest of the actors. Sure, they embrace some of the era’s conventions as well, so don’t expect performances fully in line with the norm circa the 1990s.

Nonetheless, none go for it with Leigh’s gusto, and that creates a disconnect. When one of the actors seems to exist in a different world than the rest, the movie becomes more difficult to swallow, even if we intellectually get the character rationale.

Some stories suit Altman’s style better than others, and Kansas City just doesn’t seem right for the director. He creates a loose tale that fails to find enough drama and movement to overcome its weaknesses.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Kansas City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though generally positive, the transfer came with a few inconsistencies.

Overall sharpness looked good. A little softness crept into some interiors, but the majority of the movie showed nice delineation.

However, edge haloes cropped up at times. These didn’t seem frequent or egregious, but they created sporadic distractions.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects appeared. In terms of print flaws, I saw a handful of small specks but nothing much.

To suit its period feel, City went with subdued tones. A light blue-teal dominated, but the flick generally felt desaturated. Within those choices, the hues felt appropriate.

Blacks seemed dark and dense, though they could “crush” a little on occasion. Shadows displayed fairly appealing clarity. Though more than watchable – and sometimes very attractive – the image’s issues left it as a “B-“.

For a 24-year-old character drama, the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack seemed pretty satisfying, and the soundscape opened up nicely as necessary. Though a lot of the movie concentrated on dialogue, effects added to the impact in a complimentary manner.

Most of these elements leaned toward environmental material, but the track spread out during broader sequences. Thunder, cars and gunfire became especially involving, and these allowed the soundscape more range than anticipated.

Audio quality worked fine, with speech that seemed natural and concise. Music appeared peppy and full as well.

Effects showed good accuracy and impact. Highs seemed tight and bass felt warm. While not a showcase mix, the 5.1 track worked well for the film.

When we move to the set’s extras, we launch with an audio commentary from writer/director Robert Altman. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at the project's origins and influences, Altman's personal experiences and their reflection on the screen, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, visual design, period details, music, costumes and reactions to the film.

For the most part, Altman provides a good look at the movie, as he gives us a mix of insights. He can go AWOL a little more than I’d like, but he still manages enough worthwhile material to keep us engaged.

With Geoff Andrew on Kansas City, we find a “video appreciation”. It runs 25 minutes, 20 seconds and includes his discussion of Altman’s life, career and cinematic style, with an emphasis on City.

Andrew also touches on historical elements behind the film and film-related topics. Andrew brings us a pretty good overview of these areas.

Next we get a Visual Essay from film critic Luc Lagier. After a three-minute, 48-second intro, “Gare, Trains et Deraillements” spans 15 minutes, 56 seconds.

Here we get a view and interpretation of the movie’s themes, story and characters. It turns into a fairly informative discussion.

Four components appear in the film’s Electronic Press Kit. “Robert Altman Goes to the Heart of America” fill eight minutes, 45 seconds and provides notes from Altman and actors Jennifer Jason Leigh, Harry Belafonte and Miranda Richardson.

“Heart” covers aspects of the period in which the movie takes place as well as music and character/story domains. It offers little more than basic promotional fodder.

With “The Music”, we locate a nine-minute, 20-second reel that gives us comments from Altman, Belafonte, music producer Hal Wilner, and musicians Craig Handy and Joshua Redman

As expected, this show examines the jazz heard in the film. This mostly means we get clips from Kansas City and don’t learn much of merit.

“Interviews” breaks into five subjects: “Robert Altman” (2:23), “Jennifer Jason Leigh” (2:50), “Miranda Richardson” (2:34), “Harry Belafonte” (3:33) and “Joshua Redman” (2:06).

The “Interviews” present basics about story, characters, cast/performances, music, and the general production. Although we get a few decent insights, we mainly get fluffy promo material.

The “EPK” ends with “Behind the Scenes”, a two-minute, 20-second compilation of B-roll footage that lets us play “fly on the wall” during some of the nightclub shoot. I like this kind of content but “Scenes” seems too short to satisfy.

We get four trailers: International, US, German and French. We also find two TV spots.

Finally, the package provides an Image Gallery. It presents 26 stills that mix publicity elements and shots from the set. Expect a decent little compilation.

An awkward mix of noir thriller and screwball comedy, Kansas City fails to come together in a meaningful way. The movie lacks the coherence it needs to become an engaging tale. The Blu-ray boasts mostly good picture and audio along with a fairly positive set of supplements. Established Robert Altman fans will want to give this one a look, but it remains one of his lesser works.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
0 3:
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