Image Entertainment // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 21st, 2010
Some secrets are better left buried.
"What's going on?"
Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church, Spider-Man 3) hasn't been to his home town in over 25 years. Even so, a letter from an old flame named Sonny (Elisabeth Shue, Mysterious Skin) has drawn him back. It seems that Sonny only has a few weeks left to live, as a degenerative disease is slowly killing her. The knowledge of her impending death has made Sonny sentimental, and she hopes to spend the final days of her life with her high school boyfriend. Don is a little baffled by the request, but he agrees. He's also a little baffled when Sonny invites him to her bed without much hesitation, but he agrees to that, too.
When Sonny's doctor (James Rebhorn, White Collar) discovers that Don and Sonny are sleeping together, he goes into an unexpected fit of rage. He attacks Don, attempting to choke him to death. Don desperately defends himself and ends up accidentally killing the doctor in the process. He's worried that the police would never believe his story, so he decides the best course of action is to simply hide the body and try to cover the whole thing up. This triggers a series of strange, unusual events that slowly but surely lead us to the truth of this odd scenario.
As a fan of the noir genre, there's a part of me that really wants to like Don McKay. It's a quirky, twisty thriller that seems largely influenced by Double Indemnity and the films of The Coen Brothers, which are pretty great choices if you're looking for someone to imitate. Even so, the movie's tonal shifts and endless oddities never quite gel, leaving us with an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying viewing experience.
Part of the problem is that something just feels "off" from the moment Don arrives in town. The behavior of everyone around Don just seems so strange. Why does Sonny's nurse (Melissa Leo, Frozen River) veer so wildly between terse anger and sweet affection? Why does the local cab driver (M. Emmett Walsh, Blood Simple) seem to know so much about Don? Why does the doctor seem so lacking in medical knowledge? Why are all of the pictures in Sonny's house so oddly arranged? Why does Sonny deflect all of Don's questions? These peculiarities are just the tip of the iceberg, so within five minutes we're patiently waiting for a Big Twist that will reveal all.
Alas, Big Twists generally work better when we're not waiting on them well in advance, and Don McKay gives us entirely too much time to put the pieces together on our own. I think that with a bit of work and some persuasive acting, the strange situation probably could have been sold to us. However, all of the actors aside from Church and Keith David (The Princess and the Frog, playing Don's old friend in this film) seem to have been instructed to act as suspicious as possible. Nearly everyone looks like they're lying; we just don't know why.
So, for the first hour we're stuck in a world that just seems off, waiting for things to right themselves. Then, the final half-hour sets about the task of delivering one twist after another, which I think is supposed to be giddy fun but which instead feels like haphazard plotting. One can almost see the cogs turning in the writer's mind as the tale unfolds. That writer is also the director, and his name is Jake Goldberger. Mr. Goldberger has no other significant credits to his name (he was a "miscellaneous crew" member on Anger Management), and his film feels very much like the work of a first-time writer/director trying (and failing) to prove himself. He certainly has potential (individual scenes manage to resonate strongly), but that's the most I can give him for now.
The hi-def transfer is fine, nicely spotlighting the film's simple, minimalist look. Detail is solid throughout, flesh tones are warm and accurate and blacks are reasonably deep. The level of strong detail most benefits the scenes within Sonny's home, as there are assorted items of interest lying about in the corners that may or may not be clues to what's going on. Audio is solid as well, with Steve Bramson's original score and the evocative oldies songs getting a particularly strong mix. Dialogue can be a little quiet at times, but not so much that you'll need to adjust the remote. Sound design is low-key and doesn't make a big fuss much of the time. Supplements include an audio commentary with Goldberger and producer Jim Young, some deleted scenes and a trailer.
The film's primary strength is Thomas Haden Church, who plays his role completely straight and is never less than convincing throughout. Even as the film descends into silliness, Church sells us his emotional pain and mental confusion. The soundtrack also deserves praise, as the original score and a spot-on selection of songs wrap us up in a blanket of mysterious melancholy (which helps establish something of a tone for a film desperately in need of consistency).
While Church fans will want to give Don McKay a look for the actor's fine performance, most will be disappointed with this underwhelming noir flick. Even so, I do look forward to whatever Mr. Goldberger has to offer in the future, as there's some undeniable talent there. In the meantime, I'd advise you to rent the similar but considerably darker neo-noir The Last Seduction, which delivers in every way Don McKay doesn't.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes