Image Entertainment // 2009 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 26th, 2009
Hope is found in the darkest places.
Elephant in the room: yes, this is the movie where Jessica Biel plays a stripper and exposes her breasts.
Now that that's behind us, let's see what's up with this charming tale of miserable people living miserable lives. Biel plays Rose, a woman who has turned to stripping in order to pay for the hospital bills of her young son, who is lying in a persistent vegetative state. Related to this sad family drama is an ex-con (Ray Liotta) whose life expectancy is short thanks to a shifty relationship with a gangster.
Peripheral to this are the stories of a lonely young mortician who plays with puppets and a suicidal ex-priest (Forest Whitaker) who can't shake the emotional despair from his wife's death. These characters' lives will intersect at points along the story, but the greater narrative they serve is, um, living in Los Angeles sucks ass?
The relatively limited buzz I heard on this was that its mind-numbing misery would lead to a mass vein opening from its audience. For sure, Powder Blue is no pick-me up, but there are kernels of hope embedded in writer/director Timothy Linh Bui's examination of wandering souls desperately looking for emotional connection.
That's the thrust of the branching storytelling and it works. Despite some occasional scenery chewing from Whitaker and Biel, Powder Blue proves to be a solid, well-executed examination of the imperfect lives of imperfect people -- and how they may or may not be able push through their respective crappy existences towards a more hopeful future.
Not everyone makes it through the looking glass, but I'm grateful to Timothy Linh Bui for not defaulting to the Hollywood Loves Nihilism position that seems get lauded the most. Ambiguous as they may be, there are some happy endings to be found here. I've sat through enough emotional wastelands dressed up as insightful investigations into the human soul, sporting payoffs that will make you want to stick your head in the oven; Powder Blue doesn't gloss over the seediness of people's lives or force a shallow, optimistic outlook on the viewer, though it also recognizes that, you know, sometimes folks who are cratering can pull it together.
Watching this in high definition is certainly the way to go. The gritty L.A. noir cinematography is perfectly suited for the enhanced visual fidelity that Blu-ray offers. From the flashy venue of the strip club to the sterilized blandness of the mortuary to the ostentatious décor of the church where Whitaker's character goes to bellow out his despondent ravings, the variety of settings are all rendered with robust detail and color work. It's a wonderful transfer. While the audio is dialogue-heavy, the crisp DTS-HD master track does get opportunities to pound, specifically when the score calls for it. Or the strip club music. Okay, enough strip club talk.
Finally, the extras, which are limited to a director's commentary, a standard-def making of featurette, and a still gallery.
I liked this. The characters were gripped in the clutches of loneliness and despair, but there was a surprising silver lining to the cloud. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R