Directed By: Jieho Lee
Starring:Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kevin Bacon, Andy Garcia, Emile Hirsch
An exploration of the connections between a bored stockbroker, a clairvoyant thug, an on the verge pop star and a desperate doctor and how their choices have consequences beyond the obvious.
Forest Whitaker starts off the movie with his portrayal of Happiness, a terminally bored stockbroker who is becoming obsessed with butterflies. Happiness is anything but. He has come to this point in his life by following all the rules which everybody knows inexorably leads to a career as stockbroker and an existential crisis. One of his clients offers Happiness a bit of advice. “Sometimes risking everything is the only choice you have.” Happiness takes this bit of advice to heart and ends up in very deep hock to a man people call Fingers, because of a certain appendage he likes to collect from people who don’t pay him what he is owed. This real crisis has a way of clarifying and simplifying things for Happiness and allows him to come out of his, forgive me, cocoon. Back to the client, he is the second protagonist in the movie. Pleasure, played with amazing restraint and subtly by Brendan Fraser. Pleasure is clairvoyant, has been since childhood. He only sees snippets of the future as he explains in the movie why he doesn’t just win the lottery and retire. “I haven’t been shown. The moment I see it, I’ll move on.” Which doesn’t quite jive with having a stockbroker and his investing activities, but does explain his uncanny ability to win fights and foresee betrayals which comes in handy for his boss. You guessed it, Fingers. Andy Garcia plays Fingers and seems to be having a lot of fun. It was enjoyable watching him. Pleasure’s ability to see the future does not give him the ability to change it. Dodge a punch or plant one but not save a life. Pleasure knows the words are already on the page he just gets to glance ahead a couple of lines every now and then. Why bother to dream, why bother to hope, why bother to feel when everything is foreordained. Or at least that’s his reasoning until he sees a face but not a future. As he puts it “Oh, she has a future, I just can’t see it.” Pleasure begins to rethink his assumptions.
The face, Sorrow, is known to the world as Trista, an up and coming pop star with a rare blood type. Trista is your typical shallow, vacuous pop star type with a manager that is drowning in debt to, you guessed it Fingers. To keep his fingers Trista’s manager signs her over to Fingers who plans to put her on the road and basically work her to death. Pleasure decides that since he can’t see Sorrows fate this is someone he may actually be able to help. So Sorrow sheds her Trista persona and hides out with Pleasure in the last place Fingers will look. Of course the last place anyone looks for an object is where they find it.
The last vignette features Kevin Bacon as, Love, a doctor in love with his best friends wife. Earlier we met Love as he was tending to Pleasure after he uncharacteristically got beat up. This time around Love is desperately trying to find a suitable blood donor for the woman he secretly loves who is about to die from a job related snake bite. Love overhears an interview where Sorrow who reveals that she has a very rare blood type which just happens to be the blood type that Love is looking for.
Okay so your thinking this movie has characters with ridiculous names. Well the characters are icons for their names. They represent the four emotions essential to a balanced life, at least according to the director’s commentary. I’m not so sure these four individuals add up to one healthy psyche, and I’m a little uncomfortable with the conclusion you come to if you take a completely literal read of the storyline. Four lives, four stories, four intersections, okay so maybe it’s cliché to point out how all our lives are interconnected, but clichés, like stereotypes and legends are only relevant in that they are rooted in some kind of truth. If it doesn’t resonate it’s a non sequitur not a cliché. These four lives are deeply entwined but it’s artifice, the trick is making it believable. Jieho Lee makes it believable, but he doesn’t quite make it interesting.
Happiness and Love are just not as interesting as Pleasure and Sorrow. Happiness and Love’s story lines really just seem to exist to fill in gaps and act as puzzle pieces. Whitaker’s and Bacon’s performances didn’t seem to be on the same level as Fraser’s and Gellar’s which would seem to me to indicate that they too had trouble finding hooks into their characters. I would have been content with a movie just about Pleasure and Sorrow, of course that would have ruined the whole metaphysical underpinnings of the movie so I can understand why Lee did not take this course. Still I admire the chance Lee took. He didn’t quite reach the level he was aiming for in my opinion but he had the guts to set the mark high.
The DVD is presented in widescreen format and the transfer is great. I never noticed any artifacts, jaggies or blooming. There is a nice fine grain softening many shots and the lighting is excellent. There are a lot of dark scenes but there is a depth to the darkness and the shadows that reveals a lot of little details. Since this was an independent movie shot mostly on location it would have been an easy decision to try to hide the sets in shadow and keep it out of focus. That the filmmakers didn’t choose to go in that direction really adds a layer of realism to the movie.
The sound is presented in your choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 of 2.0. There are English and Spanish subtitles as well as subtitles for the hearing impaired. There is a large dynamic range in the mix and I found myself backing up to see if I missed something a few times. I hadn’t, but it was an interruption. The commentary was great but a couple of the participants sounded like they were in tin cans, in an adjacent studio.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD is in the standard Amaray case. The artwork consists of interesting shots of the cast from the movie. And with this cast you really could not expect them to do anything else. They are great shots and they are composed well. The copy accurately summarizes the movie. There are quite a few extras. There is an excellent commentary, except for the sound problems mentioned above, with the filmmakers. There are outtakes and a couple of deleted scenes along with the obligatory trailers. All in all a decent haul.
Yes it is a flawed film but only because the filmmakers set the bar a little higher than they could reach. The acting is great, it looks great, and it makes you think, if only to figure out whether it’s making any sense or not. It’s worth picking up just for Fraser’s and Gellar’s scenes together.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10