Our review of Best Laid Plans (2012) (Blu-ray), published July 12th, 2012, is also available.
Ever feel like the world is conspiring against you…You don't have to tell me where you've been…Everyone sucks, but us…keeping a relationship alive can be murder.
Best Laid Plans is a new entry to the film noir genre, and as you'd expect, is full of twists, turns, and betrayal. The Charge lists a few quotes from the film which amply describe the mood. British director Mike Barker, in his directorial debut, makes a fine effort with an intricate story and some fine performances. A few small gripes here and there, but this is a true special edition from Fox, and it's even anamorphic!
I don't want to tell you much about the plot of this film. It is an intense, suspenseful story which zigs when you think it will zag, and hearing much about the plot from me would spoil it. Seeing the trailer, features, or any of the extra content on the disc are guaranteed to spoil at least parts of it, so just open the disc and start the movie. Don't even read the back of the jacket, if you can help it. But what little I will tell commences here.
Alessandro Nivola, best known as Nick Cage's brother in Face Off is our protagonist, a young man who has questionable judgment, and hasn't accomplished much in the small town of Tropico he grew up in. I felt he did a great job of portraying the moral ambiguity of the character while remaining someone to root for. Reese Witherspoon (Election, Cruel Intentions, Pleasantville) co- stars and brings both youthful innocence and flair as the femme fatale to the story. The supporting cast is almost uniformly believable, and the heavies bring a real sense of menace to the table. The story begins with Nick (Nivola) and a college buddy who has recently moved into town, and moves back in time then back to the present in a story that spirals more and more out of control for the characters. Though the plot is convoluted, and requires you pay attention, no loose ends are left untied and the story holds up throughout. A very nice screenplay by Ted Griffin (Ravenous) that has only a couple awkward moments to mar an otherwise exceptional story.
As I noted above, this is a special edition from Fox, which is not well known for such. This is only the seventh time they have released a disc with an anamorphic transfer, and it is a fine effort. Other than being a bit murky in shadow detail, I have little to complain about. No artifacts, pixelation, or edge enhancement problems to distract from some well saturated colors (perhaps slightly oversaturated in a couple spots, but nothing distracting) and deep black levels. I applaud Fox for going with the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture on this disc, and hope it marks a continuing trend.
The audio isn't quite up to the quality of the video. While it has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, only the score really surrounds the listener, though it does a fine job of it. The rest of the soundstage is a bit compressed to the center, though in this highly dialogue-driven film I don't see that as a big minus. Dialogue is clearly understood; even background dialogue is intelligible. A Dolby 2.0 track is also included.
It is the extras department that really shine for this version of the film in DVD format, however. A feature length commentary track by director Mike Barker and his assistant director Jeff Balis does a good job of taking you through the film, in how shots were set up, why changes occurred at various points in the film, and a few anecdotes about the shooting and locations. It is obvious they enjoyed making the film and that Barker really enjoyed working in America for the first time.
Another fine addition for the disc is 9 deleted scenes, including an alternate ending for the film. Some of those scenes were mere seconds of extra footage while others would have fleshed out some characters and plot better had they been left in. Personally I prefer the ending used in the theatrical version, but it's always nice to see an alternative ending if they have one. Decent cast and crew bios, 2 trailers and 3 TV spots for the film, and a very short fluff featurette round out the extras. There is also a bonus trailer for Ravenous under the cast and crew section. As I said before, do not watch any of these before watching the film!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One main actor in the film I did not mention above was Josh Brolin (The Mod Squad, Mimic) who played Nick's college buddy Bryce. An actor I normally like, and I think is a rising star, came off a bit too narrow in his role here. He seemed a bit too hysterical at times. Overall I don't have much to complain about; when he wasn't going a bit over the top he did a great job with just a look at times. He just needed to be a bit more understated, for when he did his performance was much better.
I have a complaint about the direction of the film as well. This seems to be a general issue with fledgling directors; that they've studied so hard getting ready for their first film they feel like they need to do a homage to some unusual camera choices and techniques. It may be meaningful to recreate a camera angle or movement to the director, but sometimes it came off gratuitous and distracting to me. One good example is people do not converse while walking in a circle to stay in the shot of a revolving camera. It may seem more artistic, but it didn't work here. Not all the more unusual shots were bad though, I did like the shot coming through a small window in a doorway panning back, which added to the suspense of the scene. Overall a good effort by Mike Barker, this comes under the category of a bit of friendly advice should he read this review.
My only real complaint about the disc itself is the price, which retails for $10 more than the special editions of New Line or Columbia. Online you can get it for under $25 though, and it's worth that. The other complaint is the continued use of the Alpha Keepcase. Please look into the Amaray case, Fox.
Some critics argue that the plot is too convoluted. I don't agree. Certainly there are a couple major twists, but I don't think they are too hard to follow unless you've not been paying attention. And I think the plot is more than suspenseful enough to hold your interest. Some argued the about the ending, but after seeing the alternative ending, I think this one worked. Considering I found a fairly wide variety of opinions among critics for this film, it's one in which we can agree to disagree. I recommend the disc and film for purchase, but if you want to be safe, rent it first. Either way, you shouldn't regret it.
Mike Barker is admonished to hold his artistic camera angles in reserve for his next film, but I do commend him for a fine first effort. The cast is acquitted, especially Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola. Lastly, Fox is commended for giving us an anamorphic transfer and a nice package of extras, and is heavily encouraged to continue this trend.
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