HBO // 2013 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 28th, 2013
A story of wealth, fame, power...and this guy.
"No, you back up! Your clearing is much closer."
Back in 2003, Nathan Flomm (Larry David, Whatever Works) was a marketing executive working for an up-and-coming auto manufacturer. When the company's CEO Will Haney (Jon Hamm, Mad Men) reveals his plans for a peculiar-looking electric vehicle dubbed "The Howard," Nathan leaves the company in protest (and gives up his 10 percent stake in the process). He immediately regrets his decision and comes back the next day to beg forgiveness, but Will is having none of it. Alas, The Howard quickly becomes an incredible success, forcing poor Nathan to watch in dismay as the auto revolution that would have made him a billionaire commences. Flash forward to the present, which finds Nathan in a new place (Martha's Vineyard) with a new identity (Rolly DaVore). The poor former executive has finally begun to come to terms with his huge financial loss, but his old resentments flare up again when Will moves into town and begins building a mansion. Infuriated and determined to have his revenge, Nathan begins hatching a plan to blow up his old rival's new dream home.
Larry David's great Curb Your Enthusiasm operates differently from most television shows. After establishing a faithful audience early on, HBO essentially gave Larry David free reign to do as much or as little of the show as he wanted. Sometimes the gaps between seasons are short, sometimes they're long and no one is ever really certain when (or if) the show is coming back once a season concludes. After the spectacular eighth season wrapped up, David decided to take a break from the show for a while to write and star in an original movie for the pay cable channel. A quick glance at the Blu-ray cover (featuring the famously bald David sporting long hair and a crazy beard) might make the flick look like a radical departure for the actor, but the film is essentially a feature-length version of a Curb episode. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.
Though Larry David is essentially playing the exact same character he always plays (yes, there are multiple scenes in which he manages to blow life's minor irritations way out of proportion), the plot wouldn't exactly fit too comfortably with the "Larry David" character on Curb Your Enthusiasm. As such, it essentially feels like an alternate universe version of the character; this time, David is a failed marketing executive instead of a successful television icon. The film takes its time setting up Nathan's elaborate revenge plot, but in typical David fashion, everything eventually builds to a spectacular domino effect of comic embarrassment. As usual, the actor/writer consistently chooses the most entertaining development over the most pleasant and/or likable one.
Though the movie is clearly a Larry David joint, it was actually directed by Greg Mottola. Between his work on Superbad, Paul, The Newsroom and now this feature, the director has proven capable of adapting to the comic voice of his writers (whether it's the raunchy sweetness of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg or the self-satisfied wit of Aaron Sorkin). He brings occasional touches of visual panache to the proceedings and keeps the busy plot moving at a satisfying clip. Many of the supporting players don't have a whole lot of screen time, and the director does a good job of ensuring that most of the characters make an impression regardless of the size of their part.
The supporting cast is certainly impressive -- evidently there were a whole lot of talented folks eager to work with Larry David. Jon Hamm continues to demonstrate that he's got a terrific career in comedy waiting for him once Mad Men concludes; playing the Ayn Rand-worshiping villain of the film with goofy panache. Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down) is his ribald self as David's best friend, while Micheal Keaton (Batman) taps into that delightful Beetlejuice-style wildness to play a local crank with an explosion fetish. J.B. Smoove (Date Night) more or less reprises his Curb character and gets a lot of laughs in his argumentative scenes with David, and Bill Hader has a few fun lines as Keaton's sidekick. The funniest supporting turn arguably comes from Liev Schrieber (Salt), who does terrific deadpan work as a Chechen arms dealer who finds himself in constant conflict with David.
Clear History (Blu-ray) has received a strong 1080p/1.78:1 transfer that offers excellent detail and impressive depth. You can see every fake whisker in David's ridiculous beard early on, and some of the more elaborate locations really benefit from the hi-def treatment. Black levels are solid, while flesh tones are warm and natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is quite satisfactory, though for the most part this is a dialogue-driven film without much in the way of attention-grabbing sound design (though there are a couple of explosions, naturally). Disappointingly, there are no supplements whatsoever included. Also, be sure to hit "play" on the menu as soon as it pops up, as spoiler-heavy clips from the film play on a loop on the main menu page (an annoying trend that needs to be eliminated).
The film's female characters aren't particularly well-developed or interesting. Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) is the attractive, boring wife of Hamm's character, Amy Ryan (The Wire) is the charming but underdeveloped waitress David used to date and Eva Mendes (Ghost Rider) tries on a wonky Cuban accent that is consistently distracting. These are talented folks (Ryan in particular), but the movie doesn't seem to know what to do with them.
While Clear History doesn't quite match the standard set by the best work David has done on Curb Your Enthusiasm, it's still a fun outlet for the man's persona. Boasting a fun premise and plenty of entertaining supporting performances, it's well worth checking out if you're in need of a few laughs.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Digital Copy