The Full Monty

The Full Monty (1997)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Mark Althorp, William Snape
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

When most people think of Oscar-caliber films, they think of huge, sweeping epics, or serious, hard-to-follow films. Which is why I think most were surprised by "The Full Monty" a few years ago. The movie is exceedingly simple and subtle and therefore, very charming. With an apparently low budget, and no well-known actors, the film manages to succeed by seducing the audience with its determination and wit. "The Full Monty" is about to premiere on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

"The Full Monty" opens with a film advertising the great life that is available in Sheffield, England. The film promises modern living with all of the conveniences. It focuses on Sheffield’s number one industry, steel, and all of the wonderful steel products, which are produced in Sheffield.

When the clip ends, the story jumps ahead twenty-five years. As the screen fades in from black, the first shot we see is an abandoned and defunct steel mill. Obviously, Sheffield’s promises didn’t hold true for long. We meet Gary (Robert Carlyle) and Dave (Mark Althorp), two out of work steelworkers who are down on their luck. So down, in fact, that when we meet them, they are attempting to steal girders from the old factory to sell for scrap.

Walking home from their botched caper, they pass a nightclub where the all-male Chippendale’s dancers are performing. Gary sneaks inside and is amazed by the crowd of women. He then decides that he should strip for money. He tells Dave his plan, but Dave is skeptical. Dave and Gary go to JobClub during the day (it must be a British thing), where they are supposed to be looking for work, but mostly just play cards and talk. Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), the former factory foreman, is the only person there who seems serious about getting a job. He overhears Gary’s stripping plan, and tells Gary that it will never work and that Gary needs to concentrate on finding a job.

Gary has been out of work for six months, and he is behind on his child support. He loves his son Nathan (William Snape), and doesn’t want to lose the joint custody that he has. Despite the fact that everyone thinks he’s daft (!), Gary presses on with his stripping plan. Soon, he’s recruited three more men and is able to convince Gerald that he must teach them all to dance. But will anyone want to pay to see six out-of-shape, over-the-hill men strip? Not just strip, but go the full monty?

"The Full Monty" does a wonderful job of sucking you into its story without wasting any time. As I mentioned earlier, the first shot (after the intro) is of the abandoned factory. That tells us everything we need to know in just a few seconds. Sheffield used to be a boomtown, but now its chief industry is gone and good men are out of work. Then, within the first ten minutes of the film, Gary has hatched his plan to strip for money and the film just keeps going, whether you buy the premise or not. It’s this no non-sense approach that makes the film work. Would anyone really pay to see these guys? Who knows, but, in the context of the film, the idea seems plausible and the movie just runs with it. It’s not pretentious. It doesn’t claim to be anything that it’s not. It’s simply the story of six grown men who feel the need to take their clothes off in public.

The movie also has a lot to say about men, and a man’s pride. There is a notion in our society that the pressure is put upon women to be beautiful and stay in shape, while men can let themselves go. While there is definitely some truth to that, "The Full Monty" explores the other side of the issue. All six men (except maybe for Gary), have issues with the stripping. Not for any real moral reason, nor do they worry about their reputations (except for Gerald), but their concern is what are the women going to think about their bodies. There’s even a scene where the double standard is explored, where the men discuss judging women by their looks. In a movie that works due to its simplicity, this is a gutsy subtext to present to the audience.

The only flaw I found with the film was the character development. The film is only 91 minutes long and it moves at a swift pace, leaving little time to explore who these men really are. We do learn a lot about Gary, and some about Dave and Gerald, but the other three men seem to fall into stereotyped categories. The material deserves better than this and I would’ve liked to see the film take a moment and focus on why each man was choosing to take this risk (other than the obvious financial reasons).

The cast is outstanding and helps to add to the charm of the film. Robert Carlyle (who was so good in "Ravenous" and "Trainspotting") is once again fine here as Gary. He is able to balance the man who loves his son, with the man who doesn’t want to show the world his true feelings (just his ass!). Mark Addy is hilarious as Dave, who, even if he’s not the focus of the scene, is always doing something funny. Tom Wilkinson creates a very three-dimensional character as Gerald. We don’t like Gerald at first, but as we come to understand his motivations, we like him more and more.

The 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD presentation of "The Full Monty" is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and the film appears to be accurately framed, as the picture shows no signs of bending at the sides. The picture is clear, although a bit dark at times. Director Peter Cattaneo has shot the film with a gritty, starkly realistic look that comes through quite well on the DVD, but some of the shots appear to be underlit or it could be a problem with the transfer. There are no obvious flaws in the source material, although some graininess is evident at a few spots during the film.

There are two main audio tracks on "The Full Monty" DVD. There is an English U.S. <$DS,Dolby Surround> track and an English U.K. Dolby Surround track. I listened to both, and couldn’t tell any real difference, although the U.S. track appeared to be a bit louder. The labeling of the tracks could be confusing to some, as they may think that the U.S. track is a dubbed version to lessen the British accents. (Trust me, it’s not.) Anyway, the sound is a 2-channel surround and sounds very good. There is a lot of music in the film (you gotta’ have music if you’re going to strip!) and it fills the speakers with a rich sound, without drowning out the dialogue — which is good because it’s hard enough to understand. The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer for the film, which is presented full-frame.

While "The Full Monty" isn’t for everyone (some may not buy the premise, while other may find it to be too British), I enjoyed the film. It’s not very often that you see a film that goes for broke and just wants to be a charming little movie. The movie deserves every bit of the praise it has received in the past, and hopefully even more people will be praising it as it arrives on DVD.