There's no getting around that Bobby Deerfield is an unusual entry on Al Pacino's resume. In the title role of a Formula One driver, Pacino spends very little time on a racetrack. Instead he focuses on romancing an "outspoken" woman (Marthe Keller) who he meets in a medical clinic. But before one dismisses the film as a sappy variation on 1970's Love Story, a few factors ought to be weighed.
First, Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Spider-Man 2) penned the adapted screenplay, based on Erich Maria Remarque's Heaven Has No Favorites. Second, director Sydney Pollack gives the film a meditative quality designed to serve a close audience identification with Deerfield's emotional state, as expressed by a resonant Pacino. And perhaps most importantly, Pacino stated at the time that he had yet to play a role with which he personally identified more than Bobby Deerfield.
The latter point is evident in the character's celebrity (we see him wearing sunglasses to reflect recognition, signing autographs, and being photographed and filmed), but also in his relentless quest to refine his craft and, he reasons, therefore exert control over his existence. Deerfield obsessively investigates the devastating crash involving the same make and model he drives, and his mortality is further threatened by his burgeoning relationship with the obviously ailing Lillian Morelli (Keller).
The characters' dovetailing reactions to mortality make for a romance with a certain intellectual appeal, but one that turns out dramatically hackneyed. In the film's strangest choice, Pacino accidentally pulls out a lock of Lillian's hair but remains oblivious to her illness (if this is denial, Sargent and Pollack should have played the beats differently here and in the eventual "reveal"). Audiences would be better served to focus on the "carpe diem" angle. "Everything's sweetened by a risk," Lillian says, and "everything's more dangerous" when you don't believe in God, as Deerfield doesn't. Such fillips of philosophy may not be profound, but they at least prove we're not in "Love means never having to say you're sorry" territory.
Admittedly, Pacino doing a Mae West impression to prove he's capable of spontaneity is a little kooky. And Lillian's hot-air balloon-antics are a bit on the nose as evidence of her free-spiritedness. But Keller's performance isn't bad (as some would have us believe), and Pacino's is excellent. Add in the picturesque settings in Switzerland, France, and Italy, and Bobby Deerfield, though ultimately a misfire, suggests that there are worse things to call a movie than "a curiosity."
In its DVD debut Bobby Deerfield looks and sounds pretty darn good for a thirty-year-old drama. The transfer shows its age, with blacks that tend to gray in low-lit scenes and a somewhat soft, grainy look. But the hi-def master looks as good as it's likely to look any pre-hi-def medium, and nothing short of a film restoration would improve it.
Given the film's strategic release date as a ramp-up to the release of Pacino's new film, there's also a "Behind-the-Scenes Sneak Peek at 88 Minutes" (10:34). Beyond clips from the film, it provides comments from the cast and crew (Pacino included) about the film's premise and characters. It's more of an EPK than a fleeting teaser, which is nice for the kind of die-hard Pacino fans likely to pick up the disc.
Lastly, Sony includes trailers for Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind: 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition, Taxi Driver: Limited Collector's Edition, Comanche Moon, Damages, and Hot Action Movies. At long last, Pacino fans can revisit (or see for the first time) this long-out-of-circulation title.
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