Judge Clark Douglas is changing his identity. From now on, he's mysterious playboy Freshstart Namechange.
If you don't have a life, get someone else's.
"See that tractor? I'm gonna hit it."
Facts of the Case
Wallace Avery (Colin Firth, The King's Speech) is a former golf pro who's been struggling with depression. His current job as a Fed Ex manager is unsatisfying, his relationship with his 12-year-old son is a disaster and his relationship with his current girlfriend (Anne Heche, Wag the Dog) isn't particularly fulfilling. In a fit of inspiration, Wallace determines to fake his own death and create a new identity for himself. He dubs himself Arthur Newman and happily manages to line up a job as a resident golf pro at a private club in Indiana. On his way, Arthur meets Mike (Emily Blunt, Looper), a troubled kleptomaniac with serious substance abuse problems. Mike seems like trouble, but she and Arthur have more in common than it might appear at a glance—she's actually using a fake identity, too. When these two discover that they're both living a lie, they decide to join forces for a while. Will either succeed in their attempt to get a fresh start?
Arthur Newman is such a frustrating movie. It has a reasonably solid premise and a strong cast, but it consistently passes on the opportunity to be an alternately fun and moving tale in favor of being an alternately boring and self-important one. The movie is so intent on being about something that it doesn't even bother to let the characters feel like human beings. After a certain point, Arthur and Mike feel more like symbolic figures than real people (though perhaps I should have guessed as much the moment Arthur chose "Newman" as his last name). The film is so glum and grim that when it actually lets loose for a few minutes and lets its characters have some fun, the effect is startling.
In those few minutes, we see a glimpse of the kind of film that could have been. Arthur and Mike begin a habit of breaking into the homes of others and engaging in role-playing games. As time passes, they become increasingly comfortable and enthusiastic about this, and the effect on their relationship is significant. As themselves (or at least a rebranded version of themselves), Arthur and Mike don't really have a lot of comfort or chemistry together. Ah, but when they're playing redneck newlyweds, things turn wild in the bedroom. These scenes are a lot of fun, but they're all too brief. It's as if the filmmakers are frightened of allowing the irresponsible choices the characters make seem too attractive, lest the power of the Important Message be diminished by the fact that these characters are clearly happiest when they're out of control.
To be fair, some of the film's dullness is intentional. Arthur is designed as Joe Q. Nobody, a sadsack loser with no friends and no personality. As such, it's a little peculiar that the filmmakers decided to cast Colin Firth—one of the most effortlessly charming actors out there—in the role. It's an awkward fit for the actor, and it's made even more awkward by the fact that Firth valiantly struggles with his American accent from start to finish. He's a talented man and he gives it his best shot, but it's hard to shake the idea that's he's been terribly miscast. Blunt does a better job with her role (and indeed is a more dynamic character), but Mike's motivations seem less and less believable as things proceed.
Of course, there's plenty of actual truth to be found in the message the film is attempting to convey. You can't really run away from who you are, and finding a way to deal with the problems you have is certainly healthier than simply fleeing from them. Still, a well-intentioned film isn't the same as a good one. It's a shame given the talent involved, but Arthur Newman just never finds a way to bring any depth or entertainment to its life lessons.
Arthur Newman (Blu-ray) offers a solid 2.35:1/1080p transfer. The film is never particularly remarkable visually, but it looks good enough. Detail is stellar, depth is impressive and flesh tones seem natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly sturdy, though again there's nothing of particular note happening in this department. The dour music is well-distributed and the dialogue is crisp and clean. Supplements include a stellar making-of featurette (in which the cast and crew make a better case for the movie than the movie itself does) and a trailer.
A swing and a miss, I'm afraid.
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