R4 . COLOR . 1241 mins .
M15+ . PAL
The Brits are no slouches when it comes to making quality dramas, and Cracker is a perfect example of what can happen when everything comes together. Scottish actor/comedian Robbie Coltrane plays the lead in what is undoubtedly his finest role, and what an inspired choice he was too, with his larger than life presence and considerable acting skill.
"I think you're on the wrong set, pal."
Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald is a psychologist and, as is typical of many psychologists, has as many problems in his own nest as out in the world. However, Fitz is an extremely successful and gifted psychologist, and his own problems of a failing marriage, alcohol and cigarette addiction, gambling issues and his inability to admit that he just might be the cause of his own problems, pale into insignificance when measured against his ability to create accurate criminal profiles and getting suspects to open up and confess. He is also highly intelligent and unable to suffer fools, which puts him offside with lesser mortals in an instant.
That is not to say that he is Mr. Popularity around the Greater Manchester cop shop, far from it, and it is safe to say that he rubs most people the wrong way, but again, his results are beyond question. His ability to read people and discover their weaknesses and motivations is truly a gift.
Although successful in helping solve numerous murders, he is a complete failure when it comes to his solving his own downward-spiralling problems. His wife is long-suffering, his kids have little respect left for their alcoholic father, and even the object of his extra-marital desire, DCI Penhalligan, changes her tune when Fitz fails her as well.
The ten discs that make up this set are sequential in that the personal relationships between the characters grow and change, but each ‘story’ is a separate, self-contained crime that neatly wraps up at the end. Whilst shown on television originally in the early ‘90s in mini-series style, they are presented here in movie-length format. This is the full Cracker compliment of three seasons with three stories each and a one-off in 1996. The storylines are quite complex and will throw up enough curveballs to keep even the most jaded viewer intrigued. As in life, the result is not always happy and neat, and plenty of mistakes are made along the way. The other beauty of the writing is the way the characters are compiled and created. In every case, even in the grizzliest murders, the motivation is clear, and you can’t help but be saddened by the plight of most of the perpetrators. As gruesome as some of the crimes are, the underlying issues are saddening.
"The only thing I'm guilty of is fashion crime - wearing this parka. Orright?"
The acting, as said, is perhaps some of the most consistent and strongest ever seen in any drama series, while the storylines are both well-constructed and well-written. The cases are neither sensationalised nor trivialised, and there are times when it is difficult to determine just who is the real victim.
The self-contained dramas run between 90 minutes out to almost three hours, so there is plenty of value in owning this set as it will take some time to get through them all.
The Mad Woman in the Attic: After a former student is killed, Fitz offers his services. Successfully profiling the suspect, he is hired to interrogate an alleged ‘amnesiac’ suspected of murdering good-looking women.
To Say I Love You: A bizarre young couple go on a killing spree and Fitz is called in to determine why. This young couple give plenty for Fitz to work with.
One Day A Lemming Will Fly: When an effeminate 14-year old boy is found murdered, one of his teachers is suspected. While some of the clues point to the teacher, others do not, and Fitz is presented with his biggest challenge yet, with a less than satisfactory result.
To Be Somebody: A bitter and angry working-class man, tired of being a nobody, reacts badly to his father’s death and kills a Pakistani shopkeeper in a fit of rage. Adopting the skinhead look and attitude, he sets about getting revenge for 96 ‘nobodies’ killed in a soccer stadium fire.
The Big Crunch: A charismatic, fanatical, self-proclaimed religious leader and school headmaster is caught with his pants down (literally) with a 17-year old school girl. Attempting to deal with the crisis himself, things turn foul when she announces she is pregnant. When the home-style abortion attempt is botched, he decides to dispose of the girl and uses a simpleton employee of the local paper mill to do it, but the simpleton lets her escape. She is incoherent, so Fitz is called in.
Men Should Weep: Fitz is called in to piece together a profile of a serial rapist. Convinced the rapist is black, he fails to convince the boys in blue, and when a rape victim close to Fitz claims the rapist was white, Fitz is convinced that there is more than one rapist. As the serial rapist taunts the police and Fitz, his threats become more personal.
Brotherly Love: A prostitute is murdered after her ‘punter’ fails to pay and she threatens to expose him to his wife and family. He is caught but, while in custody, another murder is committed, with identical DNA left at the scene. When a third prostitute is murdered, things become even more confused. Fitz is presented with one of the more baffling mysteries in the series. On a personal level, relationships at the Greater Manchester police are strained to breaking point.
Best Boys: A troubled young man befriends an older co-worker and they strike up an interesting friendship. When the landlady approaches over unpaid rent, he loses control and attacks, and his older friend, who is ex-army, has to finish the job. Now partners-in-crime, the pair set about trying to just get on, but nothing seems to go right and the hole they are digging themselves just gets bigger. Fitz is called in to help, but the Greater Manchester Police are not convinced he is on the right track – again.
True Romance: Fitz has a secret admirer, and he suspects it is a student. To prove this love, she writes him anonymous love letters and befriends and murders several young male students where Fitz lectures, for their failure to pay Fitz due respect. Things become more dramatic when, shunned by Fitz, she abducts his son and gets herself caught, refusing to reveal where Mark is. Meanwhile, Fitz’s marriage hits a new low.
White Ghost: Whilst on a lecture tour of Hong Kong, Fitz is asked by the Hong Kong Police to help catch the murderer of a successful businessman, doctor and immigration official. Convinced the murderer is a westerner, Fitz calls home for Penhaligan to join him for the job, but a surprise visitor ruins his day.
Although Cracker is no more than ten years old, it does, at times. look as if it has time warped from the ‘70s such is the sometimes dark and soft image. Having said that, the image is far from a shocker. Most of the discs are in a ratio of approximately 1.45:1 with the last few full frame, but none are 16:9 enhanced. Colouring is regularly muted, but as this is set mostly in Manchester, which is hardly a happy, sunny place, it seems almost fitting.
Black levels tend to vary a bit and are affected by noise and grain that is pretty much ever-present, though mostly quite mild. Shadow detail is a little poor at times, but never so bad as to be distracting. Likewise, there is some mild aliasing and shimmer that should not distract viewers.
Positive and negative artefacts are also somewhat sprinkled throughout, but edge enhancement is not a factor. The layer changes on the dual-layer discs are well placed, and there are no subtitles. However, Disc 10 has a couple of minor glitches and jumps that are fortunately very quick and, along with Disc Seven, displayed some serious pixellation and screen break up like you might see when watching a fingerprint-smothered rental disc. No marks could be seen on the disc itself however, so DVDnet will investigate further.
Those who appreciate surround sound will be pleased to know that Cracker is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, but it is mostly quite subtle. Rears are used for music and some ambient sound, but rarely for anything else. There is some noticeable separation and panning, and most dialogue is spread evenly across the front channels.
On the negative ledger is some background hiss that is more noticeable when the volume gets a nudge, but there are no dropouts, clicks or pops. The rest of the audio is pedestrian at best, but there are no problems with synchronisation, volume or clarity.
The music is mostly quite subtle, even the occasional use of more popular songs from the time.
Sorry, extras are non-existent.
Cracker is, without a doubt, one of the finest British cop drama/thrillers ever to grace the small screen. The casting is exceptional and never fails to deliver superb performances of the tightly written scripts. The ten disc set takes quite some time to watch (and in this case, review) and I will miss my regular does of Fitz and the gang.