Wally (Donald Moffat) hires many Vietnamese, valuing their extremely hard, disciplined work. It goes without saying that this business practice ruffles more than a few feathers. Wally’s headstrong daughter, Glory (Amy Madigan), bears the brunt of the town’s anger as she is essentially the public face of her ailing father’s shrimping company. Her married boyfriend, Shang (Ed Harris), is among the more bullheaded of the vets. seething with anger and hatred for the Vietnamese workers. Naturally, this puts a crimp in their relationship—already strained due to Shang’s marital status.
Louis Malle directed Alamo Bay, maintaining a generally low-key, slow-burn atmosphere. Even late in the film, when the Ku Klux Klan gets involved with Shang and company’s struggle (the first image of Shang on his boat, surrounded by white-hooded men, is bone-chilling), Malle keeps the temperature at a slow simmer rather than letting it boil over. It makes Harris’ more explosive moments, such as kicking the crap out of passing cars after Glory drives off with employee Dinh (the understated Ho Nguyen), all the more effective. Harris is utterly convincing in his controlled, rage-fueled performance.
Madigan, though her role is less showy, is every bit Harris’ equal. Unfortunately, due in part to what sounds like some seriously ineffective looping, some of the supporting roles are less believable. Alice Arlen’s screenplay tends to take a rather heavy-handed approach with some of the townies, so she probably deserves some of the blame for the deadweight in the cast, saddled with overtly blunt dialogue. But all in all, Alamo Bay does a good job establishing a sense of time and place. It’s exposé of deeply embedded racism in the South probably felt more revelatory in 1985 than it does today. Nearly 30 years later, while racism in the U.S. certainly hasn’t vanished, we’ve seen enough portrayals of it in the arts that portions of Bay feel a bit overly familiar. Luckily Harris and Madigan help keep it interesting.
The 1080p transfer looks fantastic. Curtis Clark’s cinematography looks entirely of its era, meaning the moderate grain structure of an ‘80s-era film is retained. But most of the images are razor sharp, with every sweaty, gritty detail visible. Nighttime and dimly-lit sequences are not lacking in this area. Just a wholly satisfying presentation all around. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono mix is simple but effective. Ry Cooder’s score is well balanced with the dialogue and the film’s rather unfussy sound design.
Speaking of Cooder’s earthy, twangy score (not entirely limited to instrumental portions, see the slow dance in a bar early on for a vocal cue), it’s available as an isolated track in DTS-HD 2.0 stereo and sounds fuller as a result. It’s a pretty sparse score and, truth be told, doesn’t offer an especially rewarding isolated experience (though I’m admittedly biased against watching a movie with the score-only to begin with). That’s it for special features, aside from the theatrical trailer.
As with all Twilight Time Blu-ray titles, Alamo Bay is strictly limited to 3,000 copies. For ordering information, visit Screen Archives.