20 June 2011
Time got away from me so I don't have as much to say about this as I might like to. The world-building and unreal comic-like artificiality is beautiful. The characters, especially the villains, are so entertainingly strange and so like the Dick Tracy comic strip that it's almost distracting. (To borrow a thought from Ebert's four-star review of the film, this is a world where everyone's personality flaws are written plainly on their unusual faces.) My friend says he vaguely recalls Beatty having to really convince Pacino to take the part, and while that may be true, so much of the character of "Big Boy" Caprice reminds me of Richard III and specifically, Pacino's own pet-project documentary Looking For Richard, that I can't help but wonder if the hunchbacked body-suit and the weird desperate-for-love vulnerability and misunderstood nature of the villain wasn't a contribution of Pacino's own, or at least teased out and exaggerated to suit his proclivities toward that Shakespearean character. On the other hand, much of the sexless earnestness of Dick Tracy himself reminded me almost too much of Beatty in Bonnie & Clyde, and made me wonder what the significance of such a flipside-of-the-same-coin parallel might mean.
Even all these years later, it's pretty much impossible not to see this film as living in the shadow of Tim Burton's first Batman (it came out the summer after; it uses a similar-but-less-hooky Danny Elfman score).
This isn't a flawless film -- in fact it's pretty sloppy in a lot of ways -- but what works about it really works. The characters are so flat and weirdly arbitrary that it can't be a mistake (someone find me a reason why Breathless Mahoney is so madly in love with Tracy?). It's a strange and flashy passion project that maybe wanted to be an early franchise builder, and while I keep reading rumors that Warren Beatty still intends to make a sequel (and if he does I'll go see it, no question), I'm kind of glad this didn't become a franchise after all. The thoughtful(-seeming) cardboardness of it all is amusing and entertaining once. I don't think it could have sustained a series. This story didn't have any room to grow. (Especially with "The Kid," who was just a hair shy of irritating, and any more with him -- as "Dick Tracy, Jr" and mysteriously as a certified police detective [??] -- would have proven absolutely unbearable.)