Release Date(s)1998 (December 27, 2022)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Twilight is an appropriate title for a noir-style film that focuses more on mortality and aging than on the sharpness of its detective story. Once again combining the talents of the men who made Nobody’s Fool a success four years earlier, Twilight reflects classic noir tropes of the late 1940s and 1950s with the twist that both the gumshoe and the client are way over the hill.
Harry Ross (Paul Newman) is a former cop turned private investigator who becomes involved in a decades-old unsolved murder mystery when he agrees to help out his friends Jack Ames (Gene Hackman), a former movie star, and his wife Catherine (Susan Sarandon). Because Harry was injured while finding and bringing back their runaway daughter (Reese Witherspoon), the couple feel guilty and have let Harry live in an apartment over their garage. Harry feels obliged to Jack and agrees to take on what appears to be a simple task—just deliver a package for him. At the address, in a dingy part of town, Harry discovers a man (M. Emmet Walsh) dying of gunshot wounds. Looking around, he finds 20-year-old newspaper clippings about the death of Catherine’s first husband and surmises that the dying man was investigating the cold case.
As Harry attempts to find the connection between them, his investigation leads to encounters with a colorful group of people including his former police captain (John Spencer); a former girlfriend and colleague (Stockard Channing); small-time thug Jeff Willis (Liev Schreiber) and his associate in larceny, Gloria Lamar (Margo Martingale); a wannabe private eye (Giancarlo Esposito); and Harry’s fellow retired cop, Raymond Hope (James Garner).
Paul Newman underplays his role and looks his age, 73 at the time. He moves slowly, speaks with a slightly unsteady raspiness, and has an overall frail appearance. His restrained performance conveys the loneliness and resignation of a man who’s been through the proverbial mill and failed at everything. Physically, Newman makes clear that Harry can’t undergo the stress of being a private eye much longer, and his expression signals a “seen it all” manner. Harry is fully aware of his limitations, yet his instincts and training kick in as he tries to piece together bits of information and motives while encountering personal danger on the way.
Gene Hackman plays Jack with a low-key elegance that is light years away from his adrenaline-infused Popeye Doyle of The French Connection. Either sitting or bed-ridden in most of his scenes, Jack appears to grow weaker as the film progresses. He knows that cancer will soon cause his death and is comforted knowing he has a wife and daughter (Reese Witherspoon) who love him.
Sarandon plays Catherine as a spoiled woman of privilege. Elegant, beautiful, and manipulative, she’s a variation of the femme-fatale and seems confident in her ability to use her charm to distract Harry from learning crucial information. Reese Witherspoon figures prominently in an early scene and only sporadically for the rest of the film. Her limited screen time includes a topless nude scene.
The script by director Robert Benton and Richard Russo is set in contemporary Los Angeles, a frequent location of classic noir. More violent than noir from earlier decades, Twilight deals with dark motives and is, in many ways, a throwback to earlier film crime melodramas. Unfortunately, it lacks the proper amount of suspense, with several scenes dragging when they should be building tension. Newman’s laid-back performance and the focus on impending mortality give the film a melancholy veneer and a pace that some may find slow.
Twilight was shot by director of photography Piotr Sobocinski on 35 mm film with Panavision cameras and lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics features a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Clarity and contrast are excellent, with details well-delineated. Blacks are deep and rich. Many scenes are dark, in keeping with the noir tradition. The locations reflect Harry Ross’ world—dingy apartment, police station, ultra-modern home of a former movie star and his wife, the underside of a pier, and the Hollywood hills home of a former colleague. Venetian blinds are reminiscent of set design in classic noir. Point-of-view shots are used when Harry walks through a seemingly deserted house. Photography doesn’t draw attention to itself and serves as recorder of events, not a showcase for fancy shots.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout. There isn’t much directional movement, since most of the scenes are filmed with actors mid-screen. Newman’s soft, somewhat unsteady voice contrasts considerably from his earlier screen roles. Sound effects include loud gunshots, a violent beating, and waves lapping at the shore under a pier. Sound mixing blends in ambient sound to give scenes atmospheric flavor. Elmer Bernstein’s score provides driving energy and contains deep dark chords of foreboding.
Bonus features include the following:
- Audio Commentary with Alain Silver and James Ursini
- TV Spots (2:10)
- Trailer (2:27)
- Nobody’s Fool Trailer (1:12)
- The Ice Harvest Trailer (2:27)
- Narrow Margin Trailer (2:01)
- Lorenzo’s Oil Trailer (2:30)
- Tank Trailer (2:52)
- The Frontier Trailer (1:47)
- The Score Trailer (2:30)
- Out of Sight Trailer (2:35)
- Eastern Promises Trailer (2:22)
- In Bruges Trailer (2:30)
- The Underneath Trailer (2:07)
- Stretch Trailer (1:27)
Film critics Alain Silver and James Ursini discuss neo-noir and its relationship to classic noir, defined as those films made between the late 1940s and 1960. They note that Twilight, with its “old school sensibility,” contains specific allusions to classic noir. Paul Newman “revisits” a character similar to one he played 30 years before in Harper. Compared to other films made at the same time, Twilight is an anachronism. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone were dealing with extreme violence and language. Harry Ross is shown being humiliated frequently. He has to show his physical prowess in order to get what he wants. Harry has his own form of integrity, acting fatherly to a young thug and feeling remorse when he’s forced to kill another person. Actual locations were used rather than studio sets to create the noir-ish milieu. In casting, director Robert Benton likes to use the personas of actors that work for their characters. He also incorporates touches of humor, a Benton trademark, sometimes going from comic relief to deadly seriousness in the same scene. The film is about obsession and works in terms of illusion and misdirection. The feminist movement may have affected the depiction of women characters. Catherine has more layers than female characters in classic noir. Films of the 70s and 80s also influenced the style of Twilight.
With its meandering plot, Twilight is a tale of deception, corruption, and murder that derives its inspiration from the B-movie noir thrillers of a previous era. The film’s star power and Benton’s direction enhance a convoluted story.
- Dennis Seuling