Fox // 2004 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // February 28th, 2007
Finally, a movie worth pulling from the vault.
Fox has had Haven in their "to-be-released" pile for quite a while, now. Usually, this is an indication of a terrible movie, perhaps bought by the studio because of an up-and-coming star (in this case, Orlando Bloom). Haven is not a bad movie, though. In fact, it's an emotionally riveting exploration of Caribbean culture.
Shy (Orlando Bloom, Kingdom of Heaven) is in love with his employer's daughter Andrea (Zoe Saldana, Guess Who). This is probably unwise, since he is white, she is black, and she just turned 18. At the same time, Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton, Frailty), a corrupt businessman from the states, must flee to the Cayman Islands to escape federal agents. He must meet up with his launderer, and brings his teenage daughter, Pippa (Agnes Bruckner, The Woods), along for the ride. Pippa meets a local island boy named Fritz (Victor Rasuk, Lords of Dogtown), who draws her into the local drug underworld. Each of these stories will collide for a fateful day on one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
If the summary sounds complicated, it is. Haven juggles and intertwines a number of stories, each one showing a different aspect of island life. When we go to the Caribbean, perhaps to a resort or on a cruise ship, we only get to see the shiny veneer that the citizens put up for us. We are warned not to travel off the beaten path, warnings that are often best heeded. These islands are full of poverty and hold the raw memories of slavery, hatred, and racial discrimination. We are thrust into this world when we watch Haven. Director Frank E. Flowers grew up in the Cayman Islands, and he clearly understands the complex dynamics of this world. It is a place of pleasure and danger, often interwoven in a mess of sun, drugs, and tropical weather.
Flowers also has a keen sense of style for a second time director, as well as a sharp eye for cinematography and storytelling structure. As the story unfolds, we are handed pieces of knowledge about the characters and their connection, enough that the end surprises, but not so much that we feel cheated. It's a film that needs to be watched closely, but rewards viewers who are willing to put that commitment into watching a film.Flowers has also assembled a skilled and appropriate cast for himself. Orlando Bloom shows impressive range as Shy, full of quiet passion that threatens to burst. Zoe Saldana puts in a great performance. The character of Andrea changes several times over the course of the film, and Saldana keeps the character believable and sympathetic. The weakest performance comes from Bill "Game Over, Man" Paxton, whose screwed businessman is really just a variation on other roles he has played. He was well chosen, though, as his paranoia and stress is appropriate. Mention must also be made of Agnes Bruckner, who once again asserts herself as a young actress worth keeping an eye on. In an ensemble cast, it's easy for one weak link to bring down the whole chain. That doesn't happen here.
For each of the characters, the island represents something different, which drives the conflict between them. For Shy, the island is home, where his father worked as a fisherman before him. He relies on the tourism industry for money, and respects others equally. For Ridley, the island is a place to hide and start fresh with his daughter, who sees the trip as a forced vacation. Fritz relies on the tourists as well, and doesn't understand why the other gang members approach them with such disdain. Other characters see the island as an endless party opportunity, and still others seek to leech from the rich that use the island as a haven. In a structure with so much corruption and so many self-serving characters, it's only a matter of time before such situations boil over into violence.
The DVD has been well produced. The video transfer does justice to the unique visual style of the film, capturing the movement and various color filters that have been used to separate the story segments. It's a good looking film, and I noticed no critical flaws in the video transfer. The sound is excellent as well, with clear dialogue and good 5.1 channel mixing. Some segments have been subtitled to help us around the Caribbean slang, which is a much better solution than Americanizing the language. We are fully immersed into the cultural experience here. Unfortunately, there are few extras on the disc. All we get is a short production featurette. I suspect that a commentary track with Flowers would be a unique and valuable addition, too.
Haven is a complex, fascinating story that takes a unique look at a popular location. Many initial reviews came back negative, but it appears that the DVD release of the film has been cleaned up and tightened. Flowers has obviously learned from his previous mistakes, as Haven has turned into a fine little film, well worth the effort it takes to watch it.
It's a shame that Fox waited so long to share Haven with us. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Featurette