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DVD Review: Cracker – The Complete Collection

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These days, crime procedurals are a dime a dozen. Leave it to the Brits to craft one that is both intelligent and interesting — and they did it more than 15 years ago.

The BAFTA-winning mystery drama Cracker stars the burly Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter) as Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald, a forensic psychologist who is both extremely brilliant and wildly unstable. His personal life is constantly in shambles, fueled by obsessions with gambling, alcohol, and sex, but he’s always on the top of his game professionally.

Enlisted by the police to help “crack” cases, Fitz delves deeply into suspects’ psyches, to the darkest regions that he is likely all too familiar with. Simultaneously, he does his best to keep his marriage from totally falling apart, although wife Judith (Barbara Flynn) rarely wants to have anything to do with him.

Cracker is a starkly downbeat program — it’s often ultra-violent and the cases tend to have no easy answers (two reasons why programs like this are quite rare in the American television marketplace, and perhaps why the American remake didn’t fare so well).  Coltrane’s moody, sardonic performance however is vastly entertaining, and keeps the show from wallowing in the murky depressiveness of it all too much.

The scripts are generally superb throughout the series, lending as much time to exploring characters — especially the suspects, a rarity in shows like this one — as to exposition of the mystery. As Fitz learns more about the suspects in each mystery, the focus on solving the crime almost take a secondary position to the exploration of the culprits themselves, ensuring this is a very different kind of crime drama.

The series, which ran from 1993-1996, consists of only 9 different mysteries, most of which are broken up into two or three parts, and are therefore really given time to develop and unfold. The two television movies, "White Ghost" from 1996, and “A New Terror,” produced a decade after the original series ended, are also included on this 10-disc set.

Unfortunately, the picture quality leaves a lot to be desired, and it appears that no effort was made to enhance or clean up the quite inferior prints that are a decade-and-a-half old. Expect a soft image with a dull color palette throughout the series, save for the film from 2006 that benefits from both an updated look and a widescreen presentation. For a series that is constantly acclaimed, it’s a shame more wasn’t done to upgrade its visual quality.

Still, Cracker – The Complete Collection is a must-own for fans of brilliantly structured and acted crime series and/or mysteries. Coltrane’s work alone makes this riveting, and the lack of his presence in the American remake is probably one of the biggest reasons for that show's lack of success.

Go for the original, and enjoy the delightfully dark paradox of a character who can understand everyone’s battered psyche except his own.

Along with the all the episodes, Cracker – The Complete Collection also includes only one extra, a 45-minute long featurette with interviews from both cast and crew members.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.