Color, 1985, 108 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Richard Marquand
Starring Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges, Peter Coyote, Robert Loggia, Lance Henriken, James Karen, Guy Boyd, Michael Dorn, Leigh Taylor-Young
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Image Entertainment (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A major surprise hit when it opened in the fall of 1985 after a summer packed with genre films aimed at a younger audience, Jagged Edge successfully courted hungry older viewers with an acceptably classy gumbo of elements including courtroom mystery, quasi-giallo thriller, single mom melodrama, and even a bit of old-fashioned slasher antics. The result somehow nabbed an Oscar nomination for co-star Robert Loggia and essentially set the template for the erotic thriller craze of the following decade, though the sexiness here is limited to one scene between the two Hollywood stars. Most importantly, this was the film that introduced screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' thriller template that he revisited later on (with a bit of gender shuffling but essentially the exact same format) with Basic Instinct, Sliver, and Jade, including a protagonist of questionable intelligence drawn to a murder suspect and a killer's identity that constantly waffles back and forth between two characters. This is easily the most "respectable" of that quartet, and it's fascinating to see the writer putting together the building blocks that would make him the biggest name in his field just a few years later (until his spectacular fall from glory).
In the middle of the night, society fixture Paige Forrester is brutally murdered in her bed by a masked assailant wielding a knife with a serrated edge. The next day her husband, Jack (Bridges), is arrested for the crime, and after much effort he manages to land attorney Teddy Barnes (Close) to defend him. Unfortunately the D.A., Thomas Krasny (Coyote), has a long and unpleasant history with the lawyer as well as her friend and sort-of mentor, private detective Sam Ransom (Loggia), who know the opponent's shady tactics all too well. As the case comes to trial, Teddy is confronted with a mounting roster of clues including mysterious notes professing Jack's innocence written on an idiosyncratic typewriter. As the trial becomes increasingly heated, Teddy falls for her client and begins to wonder if her very life might be in danger as well.
With its atypical but effective score by John Barry and dedicated performances, Jagged Edge is still a solid example of studio thriller craft without dodging its pulpier elements, including a nasty, sleazy curtain raiser that Eszterhas would tweak later on in Basic Instinct (right down to having the victim tied up and the pivotal role of a distinctive weapon). The San Francisco backdrop is nicely handled as well by director Richard Marquand, who's best known now as a hired gun on Return of the Jedi but had proven his ability with slick thrills on The Legacy and Eye of the Needle (as well as his romantic chops on the previous year's Until September). Tragically he would pass away far too young two years later after completing one more film. With its durable legs at the box office, this film was quite the water cooler hit when it came out and caused a lot of debate at the time, with many less astute viewers left so confused about the killer's identity that Siskel and Ebert had to famously clarify it on the air. (Apparently taking notes, Eszterhas later duplicated that tactic in Basic Instinct, too, and less successfully his two later whodunits.) For fans who are more interested in the horror and sci-fi side of the things, this is also a showcase for some familiar faces including a pre-Pumpkinhead and Aliens Lance Henriksen, Return of the Living Dead's James Karen, and in the early scenes, Michael Dorn before his legendary role on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Available on home video in every major format over the years, Jagged Edge debuted on DVD in 2001 (minus any extras) and has remained steadily in circulation since, including a halfhearted Blu-ray from Image Entertainment in 2011 featuring a strong HD scan, a 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix, and the theatrical trailer. In 2021, Indicator premiered the film on U.K. Blu-ray from the same scan (which still holds up nicely, here featuring a more attentive compression job and finer film grain) and what appears to be the first presentation of the original theatrical stereo mix in decades. You get the 5.1 option again here as well, but the theatrical mix actually sounds better with more presence for the score and feels more accurate to the era. Optional improved English SDH subtitles are also provided. The film can also be played with the 58-minute The Guardian Interview with Jeff Bridges, a 1990 discussion between the actor and critic Geoff Andrew at the National Film Theatre timed for an early screening of The Fabulous Baker Boys, covering his background from a famous showbiz family and his favorite roles from the actor's always good-humored perspective. In "Killer Business" (23m1s), Eszterhas offers a new, hilariously candid interview about his entry into showbiz after working for Rolling Stone and the path to writing this script that put him on the path to screenwriting stardom after a bumpy start with F.I.S.T. His stories about the making of the film are quite good as well including some crucial advice given to Bridges and the efforts to get Marquand aboard despite producer Martin Ransohoff. In "Cutting Edge" (16m32s), editor Sean Barton covers his multiple projects with Marquand before this and shares several stories of their working relationship together involving some of their other craftsmen. Finally in " Music of Loneliness" (9m11s), the reliable musicologist David Huckvale presents another very worthwhile analysis of a score, this time honing in on Barry's work here and its connection to the earlier work of composer Erik Satie and a few nods to his own earlier films, albeit with synthesizers here. Also included are the trailer, a radio spot, and a 31-image gallery of stills and other promotional tidbits, plus (in this limited 3,000-unit edition) an insert booklet with a new essay by the great Maitland McDonagh, interview extracts with Marquand, a vintage behind-the-scenes news piece, and sample critical reactions.
Image Entertainment (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on September 11, 2021