Cinema Epoch // 2008 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // December 8th, 2009
Beautiful things can happen when you hit rock bottom.
A woman barely survives a fall from her high-rise apartment balcony. While the accident is devastating, both physically and mentally, it also serves as a catharsis for her and for those around her. The brush with death opens a lot of people's eyes to the frustration and sadness in their lives. Through her, they see their potential for change and, while that isn't necessarily pretty, sometimes that's as good as it gets when you live in the city.
Director Ed Gass-Donnelly shows some promise in his feature film debut, but this attempt to make a hard-hitting character drama is ultimately misguided. This Beautiful City takes nods from other such misguided, though Oscar-winning projects like Crash by giving us five disparate characters whose stories converge through coincidence after coincidence.
Carol (Caroline Cave, Saw VI) is our main character and the catalyst for everything that will occur. She's having trouble with her husband, Harry (Noam Jenkins, Saw IV); they're in their thirties and they just don't love each other anymore. They're keeping up appearances as best they can while throwing a dinner party for some friends. Carol just can't take it, though, and when she steps out onto the balcony for a smoke she falls to the street below. Peter (Stuart Hughes, Food of the Gods 2 happens to come by after and saves her, for which she is grateful. She stays in contact with him and a sexual relationship slowly starts. Peter's daughter, Pretty (Kristen Booth, Kaw) is a prostitute who happens to meet Harry. He's sick of his wife, more so after the accident, though he's not sure it was accidental, and decides to buy Pretty's services. Instead of sex, however, he wants to take her out to eat, to help her in some attempt at redemption. Pretty's boyfriend, Johnny (Aaron Poole, The Circle), doesn't mind what she does for a living; it buys the smack, at least. He doesn't appreciate how much Pretty seems to be attaching herself to Harry, though, and he decides to find this yuppie who's stealing his girl.
This Beautiful City isn't a bad film. It's a well-acted character piece with competent writing and direction. The film is self-serious, however, and the director pulls on every emotional string he possibly can, while delivering a story that lacks the dramatic punch required to pull it off. Everything happens out of sheer coincidence. When we learn how the characters are connected, none of it comes as a surprise, though the events that bring them together come out of nowhere; it's hard to care.
The performances do a lot to acquit the film, though. Carol is the lynchpin of the story, and Caroline Cave is successful in carrying the majority of the burden. She's a charming lead whose change from the bored housewife to someone a little more thrill seeking is the most realistic part of the film. Noam Jenkins is less successful as her husband. His motivations in the story are very unclear and his performance doesn't overcome the troubles with the character. Kristen Booth and Aaron Poole are suitably scummy as the junkie couple. They have good, tense chemistry and, though their actions are also unclear, they are enjoyable throughout.
Cinema Epoch has a good track record with their independent releases, and This Beautiful City is given the label's usual quality treatment. The film is certainly low budget and shot using various types of cameras, so the image varies a little bit, but the anamorphic widescreen transfer is as good as could be expected. The colors are as dour as the film's tone, but they are accurately represented with good saturation and deep black levels. The strong detail in the darker scenes is important, since much of the film takes place at night. The stereo sound isn't quite as strong as the image, but it's certainly acceptable. The dialog is consistently clear, but the levels are sometimes inconsistent. Music is strongly represented in the mix, sometimes a little bit too strongly. There's little noise, though, and it's decent for a stereo mix.
For extras, we first have a few deleted scenes, some of which may have helped the film a little bit. I appreciate the short running time, but a little more motivation would have helped the story make more sense. An animated audio commentary from Ed Gass-Donnelly shows that the director has no problem talking about the various aspects of this project, of which he is rightfully proud. A still gallery and a trailer are extraneous features. Unadvertised on the packaging, we also get a free download of the film's theme song. The track isn't my cup of tea, exactly, but if you like the song, it's as though they've included a dollar in the case. That's a nice touch.
I liked This Beautiful City more than other films like it, namely the aforementioned Oscar winner. The actors are convincing, if not all that likeable, but the story is lacking the dramatic thrust you want from this kind of character drama. Gass-Donnelly's debut feature is more than competent; he shows a lot of promise, though he could stand to tighten up the plotting a little bit. This is a quality disc that is makes it worth a moderate recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery
* Song Download