Nomads Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John McTiernan
Written by John McTiernan and Barry Stern
1986, 91 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 19th, 2015
Pierce Brosnan as Jean Charles Pommier
Lesley-Anne Down as Flax
Anna-Maria Monticelli as Niki
Jeannie Elias as Cassie
Adam Ant as Number One
Mary Woronov as Dancing Mary
Frances Bay as Bertril
Alan Autry as Olds
Frank Doubleday as Razor
French anthropologist Jean-Charles Pommier and his wife Niki have recently moved to Los Angeles, following expeditions in both Africa and Alaska. Pommier studies the behavior of nomadic tribes and grows obsessed with the local street gang that recently vandalized his new house. He follows them for hours on end, photographing their behavior before stumbling upon some very disturbing realizations. Something happens to the good professor and, within a week of his discovery, he turns up as a raving maniac at a local hospital where he summarily attacks the attending physician, Dr. Eileen Flax. She recovers from her injuries, but begins suffering bizarre hallucinations that appear to be Pommier’s memories of the previous week. She sets out on an adventure to retrace the stranger’s steps in hopes of understanding what is happening to her. What follows is a bizarre mystery involving fringe society compounded by elements of the supernatural.
Director John McTiernan (The Hunt for Red October) makes a strong debut here with a script he co-wrote with Barry Stern, exploring the dark side of society and human nature. One of the strengths of the material is that the audience is not given information ahead of the characters. We are active participants trying to solve the mystery, and McTiernan has the confidence not to spoon-feed all of the answers. So much information is provided through visual cues that the story really benefits from repeat viewing. Stephen Ramsey’s dreamy cinematography enhances McTiernan’s vision with plenty of slow-motion sequences and creative blocking that keeps some clues slightly hidden within the shadows. My favorite scene features a character slowly being followed by someone just out of his peripheral vision. Nomads played frequently on late-night cable television shortly after its video release, and while I recall enjoying the picture, at the time I could not easily recommend it or tell someone exactly what it was I liked about it. Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the ambitious yet deliberate storytelling style that focuses on atmosphere and suspense over gory set pieces, so popular in mid-1980s movies.
Pierce Brosnan (The Lawnmower Man) stars as Pommier, the doomed anthropologist out of his depth but determined to understand what he is pursuing. His study of nomadic tribes across the remote areas of the world have given him enough insight to recognize danger as it closes in around him, but his growing obsession keeps him in harm’s way. Brosnan brings an enthusiasm to the role that keeps audiences rooting for him even as he makes some questionable decisions when it comes to sleuthing. Lesley-Anne Down (Countess Dracula) matches Brosnan for emotional heavy lifting as Dr. Flax, the unwilling recipient of a stranger’s memories. Much of her investigation is presented through flashbacks of Pommier’s memories, but she manages to maintain her own identity in this bizarre fable. The story at the heart of the matter is Pommier’s journey, but Flax makes just as compelling a protagonist and is even more sympathetic than her male counterpart because whereas he actively sought the danger, it is thrust upon her.
The supporting cast is primarily composed of strong, well-written women that are clearly motivated and developed beyond basic caricatures of wife, friend and victim. Jeannie Elias (The Pit) is Cassie, looking to find out what has happened when Flax goes missing. Anna-Maria Monticelli (Silver City) gives a strong performance as Niki, the anthropologist’s emotionally fragile wife, eager to help solve the mystery of what is going on with her husband and the doctor. Frances Bay (Twin Peaks) shines in a brief appearance as the mysterious Bertril, a keeper of dark information. The street gang is an intimidating group that never speaks, led by Adam Ant (Slam Dance) and the always-welcome Mary Woronov (Night of the Comet), who both give powerful, haunting performances, largely through pantomime. Editor Michael John Bateman does an impressive job tying all of the material together, as the main characters are working on a similar puzzle, but in different time periods and rarely meet.
John McTiernan followed this film with an impressive one-two punch of Predator and Die Hard and Pierce Brosnan enjoyed a lengthy run as the iconic James Bond (1995-2002) before reteaming with McTiernan on The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). Nomads is a challenging film that is not for everyone, but if you are interested in a mystery that does not tidily deliver up all the answers, you may want to check it out. There are some goofy moments to be certain and the climactic sequence is a bit anti-climactic, but overall I am able to recommend this title to fans of somewhat avant-garde cinema.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the thirty-year-old film looks crisp and colorful, but shows its age around the edges. The source material is in fairly solid condition, but it has not received a new transfer.
The default DTS-HD MA 2.0 does a fine job with both music and dialogue levels. Bill Conti’s score is effectively cool and enhances many of the key set pieces, occasionally pushing into surreal territory.
English subtitles are available for anyone in need.
Lesley-Anne Down reflects on her career as a whole and shares some thoughts on the current state of the film industry in Paging Dr. Flax (16 minutes). There are some nice recollections from her work on Nomads, and she is quick to point out how the film could have been better (by casting someone else in her role)! Down is an elegant lady with some honest opinions about her time in Hollywood, and viewers will appreciate this candid interview.
The equally entertaining interview segment, Musical Nomads (17 minutes) features legendary composer Bill Conti (Rocky) reflecting on how he got involved with the film. He discusses the non-traditional approach to the material and his time working with musician Ted Nugent on the score.
The theatrical trailer is paired with a radio spot and neither goes out of their way to spoil the plot.
A still gallery (3 minutes) slide show offers a look at the marketing for the film.
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