When everyone's armed and dangerous, one wrong move can get you killed.
A collection of wonderful actors, an excellent technical presentation, and decent extra content grace this film that purports to be a black comedy about the perils of firearms in modern American culture. Sadly, It's The Rage proves that without a script to match sometimes a movie is far, far less than the sum of its parts.
Being the left-coast community that we all know and love, Hollywood is filled with all manner of people who live to combine their left-of-center politics with their profession. In that context, It's The Rage must have had great appeal to the suits who green-lit the film, because from the first second to the last, it is quite unashamedly a political tract on gun control. Throw in a cast of notable acting talent, dress it up with a stylish modern look, and you've got a winner, right? Well, maybe not.
The anamorphic video transfer is top-notch, and proves that you don't need to be a big budget commercial film to get a quality transfer worthy of the DVD format. Some fine-grain video noise and a sprinkling of blips and flecks are the worst that can be said. Otherwise, the picture is crisp and clear, with very nice sharpness and well-saturated colors. Solid blacks, accurate flesh tones, and an absence of digital enhancement artifacts round out the visual menu.
The audio is excellent, particularly for a smaller, "talkie" sort of film. The 5.1 mix takes advantage of the format with a wide and deep soundstage. In addition to the solid use of the front mains and center channel for dialogue, action, and music, the rear surrounds pipe up frequently with nice discrete sound effects to support and discreetly enhance the overall experience. Even your subwoofer gets to kick out some supporting bass here and there!
Extra content is modest but adequate. The bio/filmographies for the cast and crew are rather extensive, covering ten actors and six crewmembers. The 1.85:1 letterboxed trailer is not merely of good technical quality, but an editing marvel of its type. It makes It's The Rage look snappy, funny, and vastly more interesting than the reality. The director's commentary is passable, but I think James Stern was far too enamored of his creation to recognize the shortcomings of the material. Rounding out the content is a "behind the scenes" featurette, which is little more than disappointing promotional fluff. It gets old very quickly seeing person after person heap buttery praise on everyone and everything associated with the production.
Facts of the Case
Warren Harding (Jeff Daniels) surprises a prowler in his home, who turns out to be Warren's business partner…*after* Warren shoots and kills him. When it becomes apparent to Warren's long-suffering wife, Helen (Joan Allen), that Warren acted out of malice, because he suspected that Helen and the now deceased were having an affair, Helen has had enough. Tired of his endless paranoid suspicions and control-freak nature, she finds refuge as the personal assistant to excessively eccentric and reclusive software tycoon Norton Morgan (Gary Sinise).
Helen finds her new job thanks to the efforts of attorney Tim Sullivan (André Braugher), who helped Warren to escape a murder charge. Tim has his own problems, such as a mentally ill, possessively paranoid gay lover, Chris (David Schwimmer), and a Lolita-esque street girl, Annabel Lee (Anna Paquin), whom he finds inexplicably desirable. Meanwhile, Norton Morgan's previous personal assistant, Tennel (Josh Brolin), attempts to regain his grip on reality as a video store clerk but who then is similarly smitten with the charms of Annabel when she walks into his store.
Annabel's activities fuel the manic short-fuse that his her gun-happy brother, Sidney Lee (Giovanni Ribisi), while a wise, weary retired detective, Tyler (Robert Forster) and his over-eager partner, Agee (Bokeem Woodbine) continue a relentless pursuit of Warren for the murder. These disparate threads weave in and out, occasionally crossing paths with each other, with the presence and use of a handgun being a common theme between them until events come rapidly to their unified conclusion.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A film must have more than strong political content; it must involve an audience, whether that is with humor, compelling drama, an emotional bond with the characters, or a combination of these. Otherwise, if a film does not entertain, if it does not appeal to an audience with more than a political pitch, then not only is it boring, but a failure. If you can't get people to watch, then what's the point of producing a political feature?
It's The Rage fails this test, thanks to a script that creates characters with exaggerated, almost cartoonish qualities. You don't get emotionally involved with nearly any of the bunch, so you end up not caring whether any of them live or die, kill or be killed. This failing makes worse the tendency of It's The Rage to make its political point by causing severe head trauma, bludgeoning the audience about the head with its heavy-handed message.
These unsympathetic characters are further afflicted by their unbelievability, which further detracts from the political point of It's The Rage. Apparently, only cold-blooded killers, control freaks, and the mentally unstable are gun owners, and you will never find any justified use of firearms in this sort of film.
On a small note, I'm surprised that the gay-rights community didn't make a fuss about the negative portrayals of Chris (a deeply mentally disturbed person), and Tim Sullivan (who is so insecure in his sexuality that in the blink of an eye he's lusting after Annabel Lee's jailbait). Then again, with the exception of Helen Harding and Tyler, everybody's mentally screwed-up, so why exclude the gay characters?
While the acting is first-rate, I include my comments in this area given the criminal waste of talent. This ensemble cast gives an excellent performance, given the limitations of the material. Jeff Daniels (Pleasantville, Speed, Dumb and Dumber) shows his range includes serious drama as well as lowest-brow comedy, whereas Joan Allen (Pleasantville, Nixon, Searching for Bobby Fischer) has a ball with Helen, the one completely written and real person in It's The Rage (though Tyler, played with consummate life-weariness by Robert Forster, comes close). Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan) is convincing as the frightening maniac brother of Anna Paquin (X-Men, Hurlyburly, The Piano), who seems well on her way to a solid career as an adult actor. André Braugher (Glory, "Homicide: Life on the Street," City of Angels) is impressive, as always, doing wonderful things with just a look, a glance, a smile.
If pro-gun control/anti-Second Amendment politics appeal to you, then you will probably enjoy It's The Rage as a delicious, insightful black comedy. For the rest of the audience, It's The Rage will either bore or irritate (or both). Rent with caution, but if you actually like the film, the price ($24.95 retail) and technical quality make a purchase do-able.
I can't fault Columbia TriStar, but It's The Rage is plainly guilty of wasting acting talent and my time, and justly sentenced to the bargain bin.
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