Monday, March 24, 2014

Jade (1995)

By the time the 1990’s rolled around William Friedkin wasn’t exactly having the best of luck. Friedkin closed out the 80’s with the brilliant Rampage (1987) although due to the films production company going belly up the film was shelved and didn’t actually see a theatrical release until 5 years later in 1992 and even then the film still flew under the radar. Friedkin followed up Rampage with The Guardian (1990), a film which earned him some of the harshest reviews of his career and to this day the film remains one of, if not Friedkin’s most unfairly bashed films. Fast forward to 1995. By the mid-90’s the erotic thriller was at its peak in popularity. Thanks to the massive success of Basic Instinct (1992) it seemed the public just couldn’t get enough with video store shelves being stocked full of straight to VHS erotic potboilers and late night cable programming being dominated by the subgenre. With a script by Joe Eszterhas who wrote Basic Instinct and featuring a top shelf cast Jade seemed like a surefire hit for Friedkin. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as the film bombed at the box office and was torn apart by critics resulting in Jade becoming one of Friedkin’s least popular films, right up there with The Guardian and just like The Guardian, Jade is an underappreciated and under seen film that deserves so much better.

Kyle Medford, a wealthy San Francisco art dealer is found dead in his apartment after being sliced up with an antique hatchet. While investigating the crime scene, police not only find fingerprints on the hatchet but also uncover photos of various high profile men in compromising positions with prostitutes, including the Governor of California. The prints on the hatchet are discovered to be those of clinical psychologist Trina Gavin (Linda Fiorentino), making things complicated for David Corelli (David Caruso) the district attorney on the case as not only is Trina an ex-lover of Corelli, she is the wife of Matt Gavin (Chazz Palminteri), a high powered lawyer and Corelli’s best friend. While delving further into the prostitution angle of the case Corelli learns of the favorite prostitute of all the men in the photographs, a woman known only as “Jade” and once again all the fingers point to Trina Gavin. As more people with crucial information pertaining to the case end up murdered, Corelli continues to struggle with his personal feelings towards the case while racing to catch the culprit and figuring out just how the mysterious “Jade” factors in the killings.

There are two things that could have contributed to the disastrous reputation of Jade upon its original release. The first being that the 95 minute R rated cut that was released to theatres was butchered by 12 minutes and the second being that the majority of the public let their opinions be swayed by the numerous negative reviews and never bothered to give the film a chance. No matter what the cause was its a shame either way because Jade, in its unrated, 107 minute version is a rock-solid pulpy murder mystery made with a unique Friedkin style with spoonfuls of Eszterhas sleaze (despite the fact that Friedkin basically re-wrote the entire script). The most common complaint leveled at the film is that its convoluted. To be fair, there is an awful lot going on in the film and while the revelation during the climax does seem a bit blindsiding, at the same time the film as a whole isn’t exactly hard to follow and everything that gets piled onto the storyline does serve a purpose in enhancing the mystery. All the classic whodunit elements are in place and then some, there’s murder, blackmail, adultery and red hearings a plenty. Freidkin even tosses in some political and police corruption for good measure and with all these salacious components overlapping each other the film is never short on intrigue, and both the scorching presence and performance of Linda Fiorentino takes the film to another level along with the rest of the films flawless cast.

Jade was obviously well taken care of in the budget department resulting in one of Friedkin’s slickest looking films. The opening credits sequence is particularly memorable with Friedkin letting the camera give a first person tour of Kyle Medford’s extravagantly decorated residence featuring some really unusual and striking artifacts and artwork ranging from paintings, sculptures, statues and fertility masks which play a pretty big part in what’s soon to follow. Friedkin also took full advantage of the San Francisco locations, more specifically the city’s steep streets which lend themselves to one of Friedkin’s calling cards, the car chase, and the one he designed for Jade is especially remarkable. Not only is it precisely crafted and filmed with masterful camerawork and editing, not to mention nerve wracking in its intensity but Friedkin does something a bit different by slowing the action down by staging a portion of the chase in the middle of a crowded Chinatown street parade. On paper the idea of a “slow” car chase might sound absurd and it does happen to be one thing cited by detractors of the film as a negative aspect but Friedkin finds a way to keep it visually interesting with the crowds of people involved in the scene and all the Asian parade floats. In way its actually Friedkin channeling Hitchcock, creating chaos and confusion in a crowded public place, one of Hitchcock’s favorite motifs and Friedkin even tips his hat visually to the classic Italian thrillers he’s so fond of during the films climax.

Jade had a pretty interesting back story including a fairly well documented butting of heads between Friedkin and Eszterhas due to Friedkin’s extensive script re-writes which led to Eszterhas threatening to have his name taken off the film until he settled with the studio for a lucrative payoff. In his memoir The Friedkin Connection, Freidkin sort of glosses over the controversy but does stand by the film and has gone on record saying its one of his favorites, although he feels that because of the films poor performance he let down the cast along with his wife Sherry Lansing who at the time was a higher up at Paramount, the studio behind the film. Its the kind of production history that would be prime for a behind the scenes feature as an extra on a DVD but alas, not only have all versions of Jade that have made it to disc been bare bones, all have featured the R rated cut, the 107 unrated version is still only available on VHS. The tape is obviously worth tracking down as its the way the film was meant to be seen in the first place. Jade might not be Friedkin’s best film but its a film deserving of a reassessment and fans who’ve yet to see it should give it a chance as its far better than what popular consensus might lead some to believe.

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