Before Independence Day and Men in Black, Will Smith was a humble actor in a serious role.
Based on the play of the same name, Six Degrees of Separation is about a young con man (Will Smith) who charms his way into the lives of the rich — not to steal, but for the pleasure of being accepted as a peer by wealthy sophisticates.
Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland play Ouisa and Flan Kittredge, a couple who facilitate sales of great paintings. Paul (Will Smith) comes to their Manhattan apartment one night with a stab wound in his side. He’s a friend of their children from Harvard, he says, and he knew he could find some friendly faces at this address.
Paul is interrupting a $2 million deal with a South African buyer (Ian McKellen), but he is charming, literate, and insightful; and he insists on cooking the threesome a gourmet meal. The evening goes so well that the deal is successful, and Ouisa and Flan invite Paul to stay the night.
The next morning, Louisa finds Paul in bed with another man whom they assume is a prostitute. Those few moments of shock and dismay are a small price to pay for the great story they can now tell their rich and important friends.
All three leads give great performances. Donald Sutherland hams it up as the vain, outgoing art dealer who loves the slick con man more than his own children. Stockard Channing reprises her role from the play as Ouisa, the only player who sees Paul as something more than an anecdote. And Will Smith launched his acting career as Paul, the bubbly, verbose houseguest and lonely, neurotic con man.
It’s clear the film is based on a play. The dialogue is less natural, more scripted, and more dense. Then again, that was a good decision because the dialogue is what makes this movie so interesting.
The DVD has very few extras. It has dialogue tracks and subtitles in English, French and Spanish. It has one theatrical trailer, and 28 chapter stops. That’s it for the menu.
However, the DVD comes with an interesting 2 pages of liner notes. For example, the notes explain that the play (and thus the film) is based on a true story. The notes also tell how the Kandinsky paintings featured in the film were copied with help from the Guggenheim museum — the only catch being that the paintings had to be slashed in front of a museum representative once the filming was through.
Picture and Sound
Two full versions of the film appear on different sides of the disc: standard and widescreen. The film was released in widescreen, but it was shot full-frame and then matted when it was projected. You might as well watch the standard version and fill up your field of view. You won’t be missing any of the picture.
The picture quality is as good as you’d expect from DVD. The disc appears to have been struck from a clean film print, as there are no scratches, dust, wear or fading of colors. The lush red interior of the Flanders apartment shows up beautifully, as do the vivid colors of the paintings and settings. The only oddity is a stray black frame between two scenes that was distracting enough to make me go back and look, but it won’t detract from the movie.
The sound is also very good, encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The discrete surround is only noticeable in a few spots, like when music comes up on a scene, or when a sudden noise makes the characters look toward the left side of the screen. The rest of time, the sound consists almost entirely of dialogue, and there was never a problem understanding a word.
The lack of supplemental material means you probably won’t watch the disc for hours on end. Unless you’re a true fan, there’s no reason to run out and buy it, but this DVD is definitely worth a rental, both as a movie and as a disc.