Judge Clark Douglas was hoping BMX Bandits would be included, but alas...
Our reviews of Cold Mountain (published July 12th, 2004), Cold Mountain (Blu-ray) (published February 1st, 2012), Dogville (published September 13th, 2004), The Others (published May 14th, 2002), The Others (Blu-ray) (published September 16th, 2011), and Rabbit Hole (Blu-Ray) (published April 11th, 2011) are also available.
Four ambitious films in one affordable collection.
Nicole Kidman is an actress I've long had mixed feelings about. It's clear that she has a great deal of raw talent, but there are certain movies in which her oddly uninvolved facial expressions and curiously passive persona seems to fit rather uncomfortably with the role she's been given. However, she's made a great deal of bold, ambitious choices over the course of her career and seems eager to push herself to new places as an actress whenever she's given the opportunity. There are some noteworthy misfires on her resume, but I admire her willingness to take chances on risky projects. For every Bewitched or The Invasion, there's a To Die For or Eyes Wide Shut. The somewhat clumsily-titled Nicole Kidman 4-Film Collection gathers together a quartet of her more intriguing 21st century efforts, all of which are at least worth a look.
The most blatantly commercial film of the set is Alejandro Amenabar's suspense/thriller The Others, a WWII-era haunted house tale. The set-up is similar to most haunted house movies: strange things start happening inside a lavish mansion with a rather extensive history. These events force Kidman and her two young children to consider the possibility that there are ghosts wandering through the hallways of their home. Save for its now-famous conclusion, there isn't much which makes The Others stand apart from other films of its ilk, but it's a classy genre outing which does a rather fine job of ratcheting up the suspense and using sleight-of-hand to prevent first-time viewers from solving the mystery. The film was frequently compared to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense upon its initial release, but The Others may hold up better to repeat viewings due to Kidman's compelling and detailed performance as a stern, heavily religious matriarch. One of The Others' greatest and least-celebrated virtues is its willingness to look back on old-fashioned people with old-fashioned values without demonstrating modern condescension or forcing them into uncomfortably modern, politically correct molds.
Alternately, Anthony Minghella's Civil War-era romance Cold Mountain is guilty of occasionally forcing its characters to think a little more progressively than they actually might have. The protagonists are southern, but of course they can't possibly be permitted to hold pro-slavery viewpoints if we're going to root for them. Even so, Kidman and co-star Jude Law turn in understated work that goes a long way towards selling us on their characters. In fact, the whole film feels like a conflict between the affectingly genuine and the blatantly artificial. Renee Zellweger won an Oscar for her showy supporting turn, but her character never rings true for a single moment. It's an attention-grabbing stunt that somehow paid off; Kidman's softer, lonelier turn holds up much better in retrospect. Of course, some of the louder performances actually do work: Philip Seymour Hoffman is a delight as a profane gentlemen Law encounters midway through the film, and Ray Winstone (despite sporting one of the film's many ungainly southern accents) is a commanding villain. The film looks and feels like a shameless piece of Oscar bait, but during its less showboat-y moments—when it just wants to be a good love story—it actually works pretty well.
The most polarizing and challenging film of the collection is Lars von Trier's Dogville. Using only a small collection of props to suggest a small town rather than actually constructing a full set, the film offers a three-hour journey that begins with Capra-esque warmth and slowly descends into typically von Trier-esque horror. As an attack on American values, it's a little broad and misguided, but the film is so much more than the anti-American screed its harshest critics have depicted it as. The famously contentious director has a great deal to say about human nature, greed and democracy, and concludes with a ferocious flourish which forces us to reconsider everything in a new light. Kidman's central performance (as a fugitive who seeks refuge in a small town populated by a host of splendid actors—Paul Bettany, Philip Baker Hall, Ben Gazzara, Lauren Bacall, Jeremy Davies, Stellan Skarsgaard and many others) is fearless (as all von Trier lead actresses must be), though all of the actors seem like pawns in von Trier's hands. As usual, the devious provocateur ends up stealing the show. Sometimes he does this by providing strong insight, and sometimes by delivering shameless stunts. Usually, he does both at the same time. It's von Trier at his most exhilarating and exasperating, so consider your own feelings towards the director and either watch the film ASAP or stay very far away.
Dogville might be the most unapproachable film of the collection for most viewers, but in some ways, John Cameron-Mitchell's Rabbit Hole is the most difficult to endure. A masterful portrait of a couple attempting to salvage their marriage after their young child's death, the film digs into painful territory with unflinching honesty. There's room for dark humor and warmth in this shattered world, which somehow only makes the hard moments that much more difficult because they feel so much more real. Kidman turns in one of her most exquisitely expressive and heart-wrenching performances, and she's well-countered by an emotionally volatile Aaron Eckhart. Good as the other Kidman performances are in this collection, none of them match her work in Rabbit Hole, which feels so authentic and free of the little "hey, look at me ACTING!" moments which often define roles like this. The film is based on a play, and Mitchell doesn't do a whole lot to make the movie feel particularly cinematic, but that's okay. The story doesn't need to be about anything larger than the feelings of its central characters, and it captures their complicated journey with skill.
The DVD transfers are a mixed bag, with Rabbit Hole faring the best (sharp detail, impressive depth, natural flesh tones) and Cold Mountain faring the worst (black crush is a big issue, and detail is sorely lacking at times). None of the audio mixes stands out as particularly strong or weak, though The Others tends to be pretty quiet (you'll need to crank up the volume about 30 percent higher than the other movies). There are no supplements contained on Cold Mountain or The Others, but Dogville treats viewers to a commentary track (featuring Lars Von Trier and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) and a trailer while Rabbit Hole turns in a commentary (featuring John Cameron-Mitchell, writer David Lindsay-Abaire and cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco), some deleted scenes and a trailer.
In summary: The Others is a very satisfying haunted house flick, Cold Mountain is a flawed but engaging large-scale romance, Dogville is a daunting yet rewarding endeavor and Rabbit Hole is a masterful small-scale drama. It's a nice overview of Kidman's ambition and range, and the low price point makes this set an easy recommendation for viewers on a budget.
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