MPI // 2010 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // February 2nd, 2011
Last year the demand for human organs exceeded supply by a ten-to-one margin in the U.S. alone.
What would you do to save your child?
A dark bedroom. A man and his wife are in the throes of passion; clothing is removed, underwear discarded. Their pulses race, their breathing quickens. The wife is Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds), so men in the audience are riveted to the screen. Suddenly, a desperate, wracking cough from a bedside monitor destroys the moment; in a twinkling, the couple explode from bed and race down the hall to their daughter's room without even pausing to grab robes. Their ten-year-old daughter sits up in bed, gasping, struggling to inhale. Like a well-oiled machine, the mother sets up a breathing machine while the father gets the medication.
Just another night in the Stanton house.
Paul Stanton (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend's Wedding) is an up-and-coming New Mexico district attorney, currently working a politically sensitive case: A Latino father shot and paralyzed a known child molester because he suspected him of molesting his son. Stanton's position reflects his strict moral code -- there is no evidence that boy was molested, and the father had no right taking the law into his own hands. The Latino community is up in arms. However, Stanton has greater problems at home, as his young daughter's lungs are slowly failing from pulmonary disease. She's near the top of the UNOS waiting list, but "near" might not be good enough. At one point there's a suitable donor at a local hospital, but UNOS decrees that it must go to a patient in another state because that patient is just a little bit higher on the list, a decision that becomes doubly tragic when the lungs don't survive the trip. Stanton and his wife Diane are in dire straits indeed when their doctor gives them information suggesting that one of Paul's colleagues, Jim Harrison (Sam Shepard, Brothers), a man preparing to run for governor, might have gotten a illegal heart transplant several years earlier.
The information ultimately leads Stanton to Juarez, Mexico -- a drug cartel-controlled town that makes Tatooine's Mos Eisley look like Barney's Playhouse -- in search of a miracle.
He finds one...but the price may be too high.
This review can be summed up with two sentences:
1. The basics of the plot should surprise no one.
2. Nevertheless, it's an exceptionally well-made movie.
One of the main reasons the film works is the taut direction from Baltasar Kormákur, an Icelandic actor/director whose best known work in the States is perhaps A Little Trip to Heaven; he strips the plot down to a bare minimum, avoiding overt melodrama and giving the film more of a thriller feel. The scene described in the Opening Statement does a wonderful job of pulling you into the Stantons' world, quickly showing us the gravity of Chloe's condition. Even the conclusion is handled efficiently but effectively. The court will be keeping an eye out for Kormákur's work in the future; he's got some talent. The film covers two related timelines -- Stanton's quest to Juarez and the events that lead up that quest. Shifting between the two stories maintains interest and tension, and also allows the film to fill in backstory in small doses without disrupting the momentum. The scenes in Juarez at times seem a bit drawn out, but they're necessary -- they allow Stanton to move past the culture shock and revulsion at the living conditions in general and see the people in Juarez as individuals.
This is Mulroney's film from start to finish, and he's up to the task. He underplays things a bit, never allowing his emotions to become melodramatic -- a serious risk in a movie such as this. Perhaps he underplays things a bit too much, but it's a fine line, and too little is better than too much. Diane Kruger is given the movie's over-the-top parental moments; it's a decided departure from her more glamorous roles, and she acquits herself well. she's in relatively few scenes, so she can go a little further with her emotions than Mulroney.
Technically, the disc is in good shape. Video is crisp and clear; the director reduces the color depth, presumably to give the film a starker look; it works to an extent, but it's so pronounced that it calls attention to itself. The surround track is solid, making good use of the surround channels, particularly in some of the more chaotic scenes in Juarez, to enhance Stanton's disorientation. Extras are nonexistent, save a trailer.
The conclusion has two key weaknesses. I trust that it won't come as a surprise that the group offering Stanton a set of lungs doesn't just have a spare set lying around. In a coincidence of Dickensian proportions, Stanton just happens to be on the street when a donor is "recruited," leading to the climactic confrontation between Stanton and the doctor (Vincent Perez, Love Bites) who offers Chloe a chance at life. Here's where the second problem rears its head: When Stanton confronts the doctor, he tells Stanton (more or less), "Idiot, how did you think we were going to get a pair of lungs on such short notice?" It's a valid question -- it's beyond implausible that an experienced prosecutor such as Stanton can't put two and two together. That said, by the time film gets to that point, it has developed enough momentum to move past it. Barely. It's a good example of strong direction and editing overcoming a weakness in the script.
Inhale demonstrates that you can make a compelling movie from a well-worn plot, and that sometimes less really is more -- a couple of lessons Hollywood really needs to take to heart.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated