Waiting in a crummy motel room, Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is managing to cope with his boredom by drinking copious amounts of beer and getting high. He's up in Lansing as a favour for his friend Jon (Robert Sean Leonard) whose debut effort is to be shown at the local film festival. Whilst Jon was studying to become a film maker, Vincent has spent his time dealing drugs and consuming them; despite being as different as chalk and cheese they're still great friends- at least on the surface. When Jon arrives to visit him, things get a little out of hand due to Jon's paternalistic nature and Vincent's refusal to take lessons. Quickly the topic turns to things they'd both rather not discuss and with each one trying to raise the other they wind up unravelling an ugly secret that one of them would have rather kept hidden.
Linklater's films have this tendency to be rather hit and miss - depending on your point of view, most of his films are either a wonderful piece of philosophical cinema or death by boredom; there's no middle ground with him and as last year's Waking Life proved he's not lost any of his capacity to annoy/dazzle over the last few years. So here we get another opus from him once again based upon a gimmick - it's entirely filmed on DV and set in a hotel room with a cast of only three actors (Uma Thurman arrives later on in the film) - but given that this was originally a play (written by Stephen Belber) is this really cutting edge cinema or just a filmed play?
Given the confined nature of the set, the success of the film would at least in part revolve around the cinematography engaging with the audience. This is done quite radically with a use of a dazzling array of shots that seem to be trying to outplay each other. The editing (entirely done on an Apple Mac) is also quite rapid even a little too much so at times - but all of this helps to prevent the film from seeming stagnant or lethargic - a phenomena so frequent in adapted plays.
The choice of casting must have been relatively easy one - get your talismanic actor (Ethan Hawke) to coax his wife (Thurman) and his mate (Leonard) into doing your film and voilà, you've got a star-studded cast! Still they work amazingly well together - given that they're supposed to be a group of old friends their natural ties probably helps - and their performances are all spot-on - they also seem to be incredibly spotty but probably due to no make-up being used! It's interesting to see Hawke and Leonard in the exact opposite roles of what they played in Dead Poets Society, the film that revealed them both - there's even a parody of a scene from the latter to the joy of the film buff that sleeps in every one of us.
All in all this is a good film that seems at times weighed down by its self-imposed limitations but is an interesting experimentation with low-budget film making. I suspect that Linklater has had plenty of offers to film bland star-vehicles for the big boys but to his credit he's stuck to his roots once again.
The image:First of all, you've got to take the limitations of DV into account - it's not an easy one to transfer and you've got to accept there will be high levels of digitalisation. Considering all of these limitations, the image is well transferred and not cleaned up too much keeping that rough feel from the cinema print. The colours come out well especially the whites and the blues. We also get an anamorphic transfer in the 16:9 ratio fitting nice and snugly into a widescreen TV.
The sound:Plain stereo which captures the voices very well - there's no soundtrack so it's a hard one to rate but for what it is it's perfectly adequate.
The menus: These are pretty basic - they're inanimated but look OK. They're easy to navigate too. We also get 18 chapter stops which is ample given the length of the film.
The extras:All we get is a US trailer transferred in full-screen... The transfer is acceptable but leaves us wishing there were something more to get our teeth into especially given the experimental nature of the film such as a commentary or a making-of.
Conclusions:Since few will have seen this at their local cinema, it will be a blind buy for most. The film is a matter of taste - it can as easily amaze as it can annoy - and the release is of a good standard although sadly devoid of any extras. As blind buys go, this is one of the better one's you can make and is well worth investigating.