The Onion Field

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Although police officer Karl Hettinger (John Savage) had pulled over countless cars for traffic violations, it was a routine stop that changed his life forever. While on patrol with his partner Ian Campbell (Ted Danson), Hettinger witness a simple infraction and as a result, they turn on the siren and pull over the vehicle. But this is not to be a normal stop however, as inside the car is a disturbed ex-con named Gregory Powell (James Woods), as well as his partner in crime, small time thief Jimmy Smith (Franklyn Seales). Powell panics when the two are pulled over and decides to fight back against the officers, ending up in a hostage situation. A brief struggle finds the officers kidnapped by the criminals and while Smith has some reservations, he is scared of Powell and as such, goes along with the plan. The crooks take the officers to a deserted onion field and while Campbell is murdered there, Hettinger manages to escape. While the event is ended and the two criminals are soon taken in, this is the start of a chain of negative events for Hettinger, whose life is changed forever by this one simple, tragic turn of events.

This the kind of movie that grabs you from the start and never lets go, with a powerful story, great direction, and excellent performances. Of course, this story is more emotionally effective than most, since it was based on actual events. That gives the film more impact, since we have to face the truth that these events happened in real life, to real people. A lot of movies would lead into the more tense, action driven sequence with the criminals, but this film chooses to follow a character’s development after the event had unfolded. This makes for a tragic, often very dark character study, as we watch one man’s life turn down some horrible detours, all traced back to his life altering run in with the sadistic criminals. In truth, The Onion Field can be a depressing, sometimes even disturbing picture, but it is always riveting, you won’t be able to pull yourself away from it, its just that well crafted. The performances are strong across the board also, including turns from James Woods and John Savage. I recommend The Onion Field to anyone interested in powerful dramas, especially MGM has anted up a nice disc, complete with some insightful extras.

The role he plays here was a most complex one, but John Savage was able to perform to the highest level and come through with a brilliant effort. Savage’s career was in its peak at this time, but he pushed himself more than ever here and gives his finest performance, even his work to follow failed to reach this watermark. Then again, it is a very high mark to attain and as such, you can’t be too critical of him in that regard. Savage is called on to trek through a grand span of emotions and turmoils, but he doesn’t stammer and never drops the ball, a very difficult role played to almost perfection in all respects. He has been seen in more & more films of late, so let’s hope he finds some excellent material like this soon, as he can certainly handle it. Other films with Savage include The Deer Hunter, Salvador, The Sister-In-Law, Do the Right Thing, The Godfather: Part III, and Christina’s House. The cast also includes James Woods (Any Given Sunday, The Virgin Suicides), Franklyn Seales (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Taming of the Shrew), and Ted Danson (Made in America, Tv’s Cheers).

Video: How does it look?

The Onion Field is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I have to admit, I had low expectations for this visual effort, but MGM has managed to release a stunning treatment that stands as the finest home video edition to date, hands down. I’ve never seen the movie look this good, with such high levels of detail and crispness, its a true testament to MGM’s commitment to their catalog releases. The print has some grain, but even in the darkest of scenes, detail remains high and the grain never lessens the experience. The colors have a washed out texture, but that’s intentional and flesh tones seem natural throughout. I was taken back by how rich & refined the black levels look here, as contrast is razor sharp at all times. I have to commend MGM for this one, as the film has never looked better and fans should be thrilled.

Audio: How does it sound?

The included mono track has no bells or whistles, but given the material involved, it never needs them. This kind of material calls for a simple, clean presentation and that’s what we have here, so I doubt anyone will be let down. I heard minimal source related flaws, so hiss and distortion are absent, which is terrific news. The dialogue is clear as can be also, so no vocals wind up lost in the mix in the least. In this case, the lack of dynamic audio is good, as you don’t want anything to distract from the story & performances, which are the elements that drive this picture. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Even though MGM has released this disc at a low price, it has rounded up some nice extras for this edition. It all starts with an audio commentary track, in which director Harold Becker details his thoughts on the production, as well as the subject matter. Becker isn’t all that talkative, but he supplies some insight at times, including a wealth of information about the casting process, which was interesting stuff. I think a second participant would have enhanced this session a lot, but even with just Becker, its well worth a listen. This disc also includes a well crafted half hour retrospective featurette, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.

Disc Scores