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Case Number 10093

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The Lake House

Warner Bros. // 2006 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // October 2nd, 2006

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All Rise...

Immediately after finishing this review, Chief Counsel Michael Stailey drove five hours to his in-laws' lake house to check the mailbox for love letters from another time. All he found was a Wal-Mart ad and the property tax bill.

Editor's Note

Our review of Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance, published April 17th, 2013, is also available.

The Charge

How do you hold on to someone you've never met?

Opening Statement

"Every beginning is a consequence. Every beginning ends something."—Paul Valery (1871-1945)

Time travel and love stories—two completely different genres, each with their own cinematic pitfalls. Not since Somewhere in Time have American audiences witnessed a respectable merging of the two. Unfortunately, while a noble effort, Alejandro Agresti's The Lake House will not enjoy the lasting impact of its predecessor.

Facts of the Case

As the fall colors begin to turn in rural Wisconsin, Dr. Kate Forster leaves behind her small town residency and beloved lake house for a new life at Chicago City Hospital. Fall turns to winter, and developer Alex Wyler begins a new life at the vacant lake house. Kate has left a letter in the mailbox for the new tenant, which Alex discovers a couple days later… and a couple years before. Yes, they are two people occupying the same space, exactly two years apart. As these time-crossed lovers embrace this improbable ability to communicate, they unravel deeper connections in her past and his future than either thought possible.

The Evidence

Americanizing the revered Korean fantasy Il Mare, accomplished writer/director/cinematographer Alejandro Agresti has created the cinematic equivalent of a coffee table book. The packaging of co-stars Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, the layout of production designer Nathan Crowley, and the imagery of cinematographer Alar Kivilo are inspired. Unfortunately, there is little beneath this beautiful façade.

Much like an early winter at the lake house, David Auburn's screenplay adaptation treads cautiously on the thin layer of ice that is the fourth dimension. The concept has titillated and tantalized the likes of Albert Einstein, Ray Bradbury, Stephen Hawking, and Gene Roddenberry, and even they had difficulty expressing it effectively to the masses. Without giving too much away, the film's premise centers on the mystical house and its mailbox, which instantaneously delivers any mail or objects between the two time periods. This, of course, raises several reality-bending ailments…

• Back to the Future Part II Syndrome
As befell the second installment of the storied Zemeckis trilogy, the ability to alter the future by rewriting the past is problematic at best. Has this magical mailbox conduit always been there, or is this the universe's way of correcting a mistake it made years before? This brings to mind the The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror vignette "Time and Punishment" in which Homer fixes a toaster and accidentally creates a time machine that mangles history as we know it…over and over again. The same rules apply here. While it is romantic to think two people could be brought together by fate in this manner, how many other lives were altered in the process? And why weren't either of them smart enough to realize they could make a fortune by playing the lottery, investing in real estate, getting into the stock market, or any other wealth engendering program?

• Underdeveloped Secondary Character Epidemic
Kate's mother, Alex's brother Henry, Henry's girlfriend Vanessa, and Alex's receptionist Mona are all present at key moments of the story, and yet all feel like little more than set dressing to cover flaws in the story. Need to reveal some critical information? Have Kate or Alex chat with a character of little or no significance to the plot. Now, there could have been more to these characters in the original Korean film or in earlier drafts of the script or ultimately left on the cutting room floor. However, with no commentary and very little in the way of other bonus materials, there's no way to be certain.

• Pen to Mouth Disease
This is a heavy handed device used by directors to give physicality to the emotion put forth by a character while writing a letter or an e-mail. Agresti starts with the traditional voice over, but halfway through switches to a split screen verbal conversation between the two. While the visual is interesting, the banter never really works. The device would have been more effective had he made a choice and stuck with it. Some will argue its use shows the growing attachment between the two, but there are other ways to achieve the same thing and not distract your audience.

• Jack, the Time Paradox-Defying Dog
In what may have been a script oversight or a Sandra Bullock ad lib gone horribly wrong, we discover that the two share the same dog… not only two years apart, but at the same physical time. The offending moment occurs at the 18-minute mark when discussing the freak snowstorm of 2004. Given how the story eventually plays out, I don't think that was the intention, but it's a major plot hole nonetheless.

The film's misfires do not rest squarely on the shoulders of the story. The performances do little to flesh out the tale.

Sandra and Keanu turn in the most authentic roles, despite spending very little time on screen together. The love affair between them is palpable—both are disenchanted with life, looking for something more tangible in an illusionary world, and finding it in the written words of another. Neither performance will garner them industry awards, but their subtle chemistry works.

Dylan Walsh, as Kate's boyfriend Morgan, is the only other notable performance. Unfortunately for him (and us), it's near identical to his role as Dr. Sean McNamara, the conflicted, sad sack he plays on FX's Nip/Tuck. Sadly, that's the most credit I can give to this ensemble.

The legendary Christopher Plummer plays revered architect Simon Wyler (Alex's father) a sadistic twist on the Sound of Music's self-obsessed Captain Von Trapp. Caring for little except his work, his two sons have no viable emotional connection to their father. Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Stealth), as Alex's brother, looks uncomfortable in his role, almost as if he walked onto the wrong set, was handed a script, and pushed in front of the camera. Not for a moment do I believe these two men are brothers. Respected Netherlands-born actress Willeke van Ammelrooy, as Kate's mother, is nothing short of extraneous. The few scenes she and Sandra do share are variations on the same theme and the film could have proceeded just as well without them. Shohreh Aghdashloo (X-Men: The Last Stand), as Kate's boss, is in the same boat. In fact, if you rolled their dialogue together, one character could have been equally as effective. Needless to say, both actresses are wasted here.

Finally, we come to the man in the director's chair—Alejandro Agresti. I honestly don't think he was going for the existentialist love story the Warner's marketing team would have us believe. Agresti is a visual artist and this is a love poem for the eyes, emphasizing Chicago's magnificent architectural history, the Midwest's awe-inspiring change of seasons, and the ability of two people to fall in love based solely on the written words they share—and we're not talking internet romance. Had this been a smaller, independent art house picture with lesser-known actors, I think it would have rivaled the magic of the original.

Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is as good as one would expect from a recent theatrical release. Free from any dirt, grain, or digital enhancement, it effectively brings the beauty of its big screen presentation to the small screen. Keep in mind, the picture has a dreamy haze-like quality to it and is not the fault of the WHV authoring process. The color scheme ranges from the warm ambers, oranges, and browns of fall, to the blues, grays, and purples of winter, and the bright greens, reds, and yellows of spring and summer. The Dolby 5.1 mix is adequate for a heavy dialogue picture and won't do anything to tire out your sound system. Not even the music works hard. Rachel Portman's score is one of, if not the least memorable of her career. The ambient music is appropriate to the emotional impact of the picture, but you won't walk away remembering any single track or theme.

Sadly, The Lake House is a near naked release. For as hyped as this film was, Warner Home Video only saw fit to include a handful of inconsequential and uninteresting deleted scenes and outtakes, as well as the original theatrical trailer. Not that additional material would have saved the film, but it certainly would have gone a long way to explaining the many questions the finished product raises. Perhaps that's a mystery for another time.

Closing Statement

The Lake House is another example of a film which could have been memorable if everything clicked. It doesn't and, as a result, we have a DVD that is worth renting only when your Netflix queue hits a dry spell.

The Verdict

The Lake House is found guilty of creating cinematic eye candy. It's beautiful to look at and easy to digest, but leaves you hungry for more. Director Alejandro Agresti and his team are hereby remanded from making any studio tent pole pictures with budgets greater than $25 million. Your gifts should not be wasted on fluff.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 95
Audio: 95
Extras: 25
Acting: 70
Story: 75
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 2.40:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Drama
• Fantasy
• Romance

Distinguishing Marks

• Additional Scenes and Outtakes
• Original Theatrical Trailer

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