ALAMO BAY (Blu-ray)
Tri-Star / 1985 / 98 mins / R
The conflict of Alamo Bay is a very complex issue that degrades into racism and violence. Texas' Gulf of Gaveston is occupied by two groups of fishermen; the local rednecks (some Vietnam veterans) and the migrated Vietnamese. The two clash over business issues with emotional and racial baggage fueling the fire. Both make a strong case which makes this more than just a one-sided, racism-is-bad story. We know it's wrong to strongly hate those from other cultures and have seen the evils that come from it, but it's also important to know how that evil took shape.
The film follows two individuals from both camps. Shang (Ed Harris) is a bitter fisherman who can't make ends meet with his boat loans and has a terrible home life with his wife. The only joy he has is his not-so-secret affair with local woman Glory (Amy Madigan). On the other end of the spectrum, Dihn (Ho Nguyen) is the plucky new Vietnamese boy in town seeking to break into the fishing business. He hangs out with a shady group of Vietnamese fishing with unidentified boats at illegal times, but Dihn has dreams of owning his own boat to go legit. He goes about it the right way, but the racial tension puts up several roadblocks.
Director Louis Malle does his best at focusing on the small painful bits of the whole situation. The little moments where racial tension causes an emotional fight in the grocery store or an awkward moment in church capitalize on the uneasiness. There are also several brilliant shots of the fisherman at sea just trying to do their job.
One particular moment involves Shang just pulling up another cage with a silent look of hopeless etched across his face. He is a very interesting character not because he is the villain, but that he allows himself to slip into the darkness when all seems lost. His actions grow quite personal when his boat is repossessed and Glory is snatched up by Dihn. By this point, he's joined the Klu Klux Klan and is fully committed to being a full-blown racist warrior.
Alamo Bay doesn't provide any easy answers to the issues of racism and immigration. The film ends with a predictably violent climax, but it still packs a powerful punch of confusing resolution. After several men are killed and injured, Glory looks drained and weary recognizing the futility of how it all came to this. It's an ending that isn't so much about how violence is an awful end-game strategy, but how easy it is to devolve into a barbaric state when your back is against the wall. Even though the second act pretty much turns into the wicked Shang versus the stoic Dihn, nobody really wins in the end.
The transfer isn't quite as stunning for this Blu-ray. The grain levels are pretty high and inconsistent throughout. Outside of that, the video looks decent at best for a Blu-ray release. The audio is also nothing to brag about with (get this) an English 1.0 DTS-HD Master. In other words, it's a single channel mono track which is extremely rare for Blu-ray. It still sounds pretty good for the one speaker it occupies, but, seriously, a mono track for a Twilight Time Blu-ray?
This is pretty sparse for a Twilight Time release. The only extras present are the original theatrical trailer and an isolated music score (which isn't that great considering there are too few moments of music in the soundtrack).
Alamo Bay is an intriguing film to study and talk about, but it's not quite worth seeking out on this Blu-ray. Everything about the disc just screams that it was made for DVD. Hopefully, years later, there will be a general DVD release so others can enjoy this lost gem properly on a format befitting the quality. As it stands, since the film is available for digital download, this release of Alamo Bay is only worth it for the fact that 3,000 copies were produced and that it's another great role from Ed Harris.