Magnolia Pictures // 2009 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 10th, 2011
Murder is the family business.
You can always expect certain things to occur between members of cinematic crime families. Regardless of what their particular game is, you can bet it'll end in some combination of paranoia, betrayals, and murder. For the more violent clans, these things are par for the course, forgotten as quickly as they happen. But for those who deal in petty crimes, like our tight-knit pot dealing family of Down Terrace, the consequences of these actions are always devastating and, sometimes, darkly funny.
Upon their release from prison, father and son crooks Karl and Bill (real life father and son Robert and Robin Hill) come home to well-wishers and envelopes of money. It's not just business as usual, however; there's an informant among them. Their simple drug ring and easy life become much more complicated when revenge and murder become their daily activities.
Down Terrace, during its two week time frame, takes us from a time of celebration through to the total destruction of the family unit. Normally, these guys would rather spend their time peddling weed (it's worked for father Karl for decades), but based on the understandable desire to stay out of prison, they have to take matters further and find out who ratted on their operation. Each of their associates is a trusted family friend, and it will be a deep betrayal no matter who is to blame. Forced to call on the seediest, most violent people they know, the breakdown of the family happens fast and it happens with a lot of blood.
Director Ben Wheatley could have played Down Terrace as the sad drama the scenario appears to be. But armed with a cast of comedic actors and a dry sense of wit, he gives the film a wickedly dark sense of humor. The story isn't always plausible, but there's a great spirit and a lot of positives to the film. It doesn't feel like the characters know they're in a film, but there's a certain irreverent, winking quality to their banter that made me smile from the opening moments. As the situation gets darker and bloodier, the banter often gets funnier. Some of the best gags occur at the most violent moments. Wheatley hasn't made some kind of slapstick crime comedy, though. He's able to balance the humor with the drama in the story, making for a mostly very satisfying experience.
The comedy aspects work so well because they don't really exist in the story; all of this comes out of the performances and the actors' relationships with each other. As a real life father and son, the Hills are understandably able to portray a very realistic relationship. The fits of laughter, angry looks, and snide comments represent a lifetime of history between them that comes out very well on screen. While Robert is a professional comedian, dad is not an actor at all. Their roles are so specific to their lives, though, that you could scarcely tell their level of experience while watching them. Much of the film was shot in their own home, after all. Bill's in-story fiance is Robin's wife in real life. The acting on the whole isn't the greatest, but the chemistry that the characters have with one another is undeniable.
On Blu-ray, Down Terrace has been given a fantastic treatment from Magnolia Home Entertainment. This is by no means a large budget film, but the image, shot on Red Camera, looks beautiful. There's great detail and the gray color palette is gorgeously rendered. The transfer is nearly flawless, crystal clear and lovely throughout. The surround mix is also quite good, but not terribly dynamic. It's a dialog-heavy film and, while there are brief moments of emphasis that make use of the rear channels. They don't have much, but they do show themselves once in a while.
We have a surprising slate of extras for an independent film, but Magnolia has come through for Down Terrace. An audio commentary with Ben Wheatley and Robin Hill, good friends who have a hoot talking about the film. They're realistic about it and understand where certain things went wrong, but they're funny, energetic, and totally worth listening to. A deleted scene and an extended scene are interesting to see, but as they say in the commentary, they made those cuts for good reason. Acting and camera tests with the father and son are nothing essential, but they are fun to watch. A short film called "Rob Loves Kerry" is a decent but uncomfortable ten minute piece showing the mounting rage of a husband and how it tears his marriage apart. The final piece is a compilation of clips from comedy team the "Amazing Wizards," including Robin Hill, who had a big hand in the production. They're hard to describe, but they pull stunts involving bricks and the like. Strange stuff, but pretty funny.
Enjoyable and entertaining throughout, I don't have much to complain about. Down Terrace does have some plausibility problems in the basic premise of the story. I simply have a hard time believing that after two generations of pot dealership, this would be the first time they'd be arrested for it and, moreover, that it could so quickly lead to murder. I understand that it's a drug like any other, so it's big business and big danger like all the rest. But these guys are seriously small potatoes. That's not a deal breaker; I just think they're overreacting and it makes some of the story elements, especially toward the end of the film, something of a stretch.
Down Terrace is a surprisingly dark comedy with a lot of good moments. The story doesn't completely work for me, but film is very enjoyable and worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film
* Official Site