That MOVIE-NUT Review #103 The Razor's Edge

That MOVIE-NUT Review #103
The Razor’s Edge, (1984), John Byrum.
Starring: Bill Murray, Catherine Hicks, Theresa Russell, Denholm Elliot and Brian Doyle-Murray .
The Razor’s Edge is the second adaptation of the famous soul searching novel, previously filmed with
Tyrone Power in the mid 40s. This Bill Murray-centric version tells the story of Larry, a socialite in the
early 20th century who joins WW1 as a voluntary ambulance driver. The experience drastically changes
Larry, leaving him adrift back home, and so, he begins an expansive journey across the globe to
rediscover himself, much to the puzzlement of friends and family.
Being his first serious role, it’s the ideal spot to start when discussing casting; how does Bill Murray fare
here? Honestly, it may be rough around the edges with some odd stiffness here and there, but, he holds
his own pretty well, making Larry likeably dry and aloof while greatly toning down the sark we all know
from him, and his reserve really does make you buy him as a ‘lost soul’, though sometimes, a little too
lost. However, Murray brought along with him a fine selection of other actors, including Catherine Hicks
and Theresa Russell as the two key women in his life whose own starts to change both with his going
and coming, James Keach as his best friend and the wonderfully droll Denholm Elliot as the socially
adept Uncle of one of the girls. We even get Brian Doyle Murray in here as the tough old officer
Piedmont, who schools Larry on the harsh realities of the trenches, and he balances the line of being
morbidly comic and deathly serious rather well.
As for the technicals, Razor’s Edge is no slacker in this department, and while it may not be as lavish or
grandoise a period piece as say ‘Heaven’s Gate’, it still fully conveys the scope of Larry’s journey. From
the mines of England and trenches of France, to the shanty towns of India and the snow covered
mountains of Tibet, it’s all shot really well with plenty of vistas and wide shots to really dwarf Larry in
these far off lands. As for music, Jack Nitzsche of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest fame steps up, and
delivers something suitably moving, mainly revolving around a strings heavy motif that sounds a fair bit
like Ennio Morricone’s music for Time Of Destiny. Regardless, it gets the job done and does add a little
extra punch to the film’s balancing act of grand scale yet intimacy.
But after that, we must discuss the script, co-written by Murray as well, for whom this was a passion
project. The Razor's Edge assembles a lot of great components as discussed, yet unfortunately, never
fully meets expectations. From a writing standpoint, this is down to the inciting incident that leads to
Larry's big soul search and the primary focus of the film: it just isn't well developed enough. The WW1
segment isn't very long, and you don't really get the impression that Larry is all that scarred or shocked
by it. Part of this is down to Murray’s rigidity so we don’t get strong enough emotion, but also, they try
to give him this relationship with his officer, Piedmont. The limited screentime they share sees them
more at odds or Larry being bewildered by the brashness of Piedmont, so why does his death matter so
much more to Larry than any others he’s already seen on the battlefield of a historical slaughterfest like
WW1 no less?
This is the one key segment where the film really has to bare all, and be as visceral and charged as it can
be to give it the full emotional effect, but instead, it’s very nonchalant about it, and thus weakens
everything else in the story, and makes Larry's journey not feel anywhere near as powerful or weighty as
it so badly needs to be if this is what drives most of the narrative. This is even more problematic because
honestly, the rest of the film’s story is handled pretty well. We see how Larry’s behavior affects those
around him and how their lives change when he goes away and then comes back, and what happens to
them in the interim. Even the contrast between his soul searching and their more materialistic, glossy
life style in the Roaring 20s is actually competently utilized. However, because of the one spoiled
element, all of these other narrative components feel deflated, and not as engaging or resonant as they
clearly should be. For how well thought out everything else is, I’m legitimately scratching my head as to
how Murray and John Byrum, the other writer and director of this film, decided to slack off in the one
place they shouldn’t have.
It’s a real pity because you can see the dedication and passion on screen: great production values,
moving score, a fine cast and some definitely touching moments, but this is the textbook example of
how even one loose cog or spring can wreck an entire machine. It’s not unwatchable or boring by any
means, and it has developed a cult following among Murray’s hardcore fans, but its reasons for
obscurity are all too apparent.
In the end, I must award The Razor’s Edge a bronze star. It’s an interesting curio from Murray’s long
career, and a decent change up if you’re sick of popping in Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day all the time
for your Murray fix, but that is really all it is. A genuine shame, as it only took one mistake to bring
everything else down with it.
© SavageScribe 2014
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