Image Entertainment // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 24th, 2010
Relationships don't come cheap.
The family reconciliation drama always rings a little hollow for me. They usually involve someone (like children) having to forgive someone else (like a parent) for the unforgivable -- all because somebody has cancer. Often this cancer doesn't cause any change in character. Even if it does, cancer hardly erases the past, and yet character after character is asked to ignore grievous faults or emotional and physical pain. Maybe I'm coldhearted, but it just doesn't work for me. Initially, then, I wasn't too keen on $5 a Day (Blu-ray), a road-movie forgiveness drama hybrid. However, some decent writing and strong central performances overcame my skepticism to deliver a movie that's funny, sweet, and a little bit sad.
Flynn (Alessandro Nivola, Face/Off) has just been fired from his job, his girlfriend (Amanda Peet, Identity) is leaving him, and the father (Christopher Walken, True Romance) he hasn't talked to in years just called to say he's got cancer. Flynn goes to see his father, who convinces him to go on a road trip to a treatment center. Along the way they travel down memory lane and try to reconcile their differences as they discover more about each other.
$5 a Day gets off to a rocky start, almost too quirky for its own good. We're treated to a montage of Flynn working as a restaurant health inspector, and he's super-precise and almost obsessive about his various duties (which doesn't seem to reflect his character in the rest of the film). Then we meet Flynn's dad, Nat. He outlines to Flynn that he's lived the last six months only $900 out of pocket by taking every free thing he can, calling into radio shows, scalping tickets, trading favors. He's a cheapskate, and also a conman. So, when the hyper-precise health inspector and the tight-fisted conman went on the road to cancer treatment (in a pink Sweet'n'Low sponsored car no less), my hopes were not high.
However, I should have had faith in the always dependable Christopher Walken. He does an amazing job inhabiting this super-quirky character, humanizing him with little gestures, pauses, and looks. He's absolutely hilarious in a number of scenes, but doesn't shirk the dramatic moments when they come. Any fan of Walken's particular brand of thespian genius will want to see this classic late-period part. Amazingly, Alessandro Nivola is able to keep up with the spirited Walken. Although he often has to play the straight man, he's never overwhelmed or intimidated by Walken's huge screen presence, and their scenes together are the highlight of the film. Sharon Stone and Amanda Peet both have their names above the title, but they essentially have bit parts as window dressing to the story of father and son. They're great in their roles, but they amount to only a few minutes a piece of screen time.
Despite my general skepticism towards the idea of this kind of reconciliation, $5 a Day doesn't keep things simple and cop out with a simple tale of son forgiving father. Instead, the story gets more complicated, and both father and son come to a better understanding of themselves and each other without glossing over the fact that mistakes were made. It all winds up with an emotionally powerful and poignant ending that doesn't overplay anything.
Evidently $5 a Day was a labor of love and took a long time to get made and released. It's unfortunate, then, that this Blu-ray disc is such a mixed bag. The AVC encoded video simply isn't up to snuff for a hi-def release, at least to these eyes. There's a gritty, somewhat noisy look to much of the video, especially towards the beginning. I would chalk it up to grain, but it looks too pixelated and noisy to be just grain. Furthermore, this "grain" doesn't seem to be contributing to the kind of fine detail that hi-def can display. There are a few moments where the transfer rises above DVD, where facial features and other small details emerge and colors are generally strong, but it can also be off putting at times too. The DTS-HD track is generally excellent, although surround use is minimal at best. This is a dialogue-heavy film, and the front and center speakers do the lion's share of the work with clarity and precision. Extras include some interviews with the cast and director, still galleries, and the film's trailer.
$5 a Day takes its sweet time getting started. Once on the road can meander a bit in getting to its destination. Although I found the journey worth it in the end, those with little patience slower narratives might want to give this one a miss.
The lack of more substantial extras is a bit disappointing. I'd love lots of outtakes of Walken (especially his dancing scenes), and a commentary talking more about the sponsorship and other production details.
Finally, this film is rated PG-13 for (among other things) Brief Nudity. That nudity includes the pale posterior of Christopher Walken, so those looking to remain unscarred by his bare bottom should be warned.
$5 a Day is an interesting entry into an overflowing genre, but the strong performances by Walken and Nivola make it pretty easy to recommend to fans of their work. Anyone else interested in a funny, poignant film about forgiveness should give this flick at least a rental. Sadly, the Blu-ray isn't quite what the film deserves, but it's more than watchable.
For $5 a Day, I'll find the film not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Photo Galleries