Thirteen Conversations About One Thing Review

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing is one of those small scale indie productions which nonetheless manages to a heavyweight cast. Starting initially as almost a portmanteau picture, the film places Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, Clea DuVall and Alan Arkin into their own individual narratives only to have them later interact. McConaughey plays an assistant to the DA who faces up to the guilt of a hit and run. Turturro’s professor copes with being attacked in the street and an affair. Arkin, whose character works in insurance, sacks an eternally upbeat work colleague. And DuVall is revealed to be the victim of McConaughey’s ill-fated late night drive.

Yet whilst it may flirt with the portmanteau approach, Thirteen Conversations is the product of a single director who also serves as co-writer. In other words the various strands are meant to add up to more than the sum of their parts and as such this is a film which is trying to tell us something. Indeed, there’s an air of self-importance, not to mention a self-consciousness, which imbues the whole enterprise. The result is a film which doesn’t really have conversations as such (despite the title), but clearly formed dialogue: people speak in monologues; everyone has a story to tell; and everything is weighed down by this self-importance.

Essentially there’s too much control being exerted on the writers’ behalves. The plotting is too constructed, too obviously geared towards its being theme – the nature of happiness – for it to have any great effect. The spontaneity has gone and as such we stay one step ahead of the drama. Not in anticipation of some big moment, however, but rather the next inevitable interconnection between the narrative strands. Admittedly, the actual events in themselves aren’t always predictable, but the manner in which they appear is.

As such Thirteen Conversations’ qualities ultimately come down to the acting. And in this respect it produces a pair of standouts in Arkin and McConaughey, the former lending a welcome gravitas, whilst the latter retains the muted approach which had characterised his previous performance in Bill Paxton’s Frailty. However, bring Turturro into the equation and something interesting happens. Whereas this actor demonstrates incredibly high standards and has produced top notch performances for the likes of Tom DiCillo, Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers, both Arkin (particularly of late) and McConaughey have been far more wayward. And so whilst both these actors impress, Turturro seems only lukewarm – and ultimately, you feel, this has to come down to the script. (The same is also true of DuVall who disappears without a strong character to cling to.)

All of which produces a serious lack of balance as endure some of the characters whilst waiting for others to appear or even wish that entire strands would disappear. Moreover, when you look at the films which Thirteen Conversations is clearly trying to emulate - Short Cuts, Magnolia - you’ll notice that the key to their success was exactly this ability to maintain a balance throughout.

The Disc

Though it comes with accompanying commentary, it’s plain to see that Arrow have put little effort into this DVD release. Though anamorphically enhanced and taken from a mostly clean print (any damage is minimal and extremely tiny), the film comes across as alternately soft and blocky especially during the long shots. As for the soundtrack, here we find a DD2.0 in lieu of its original DD5.1 recording. Admittedly, it sounds good as far as it goes, but surely we should expect a disc to come with its original soundtrack and not some downgrade.

As said, the sole extra is the commentary and for the most part it makes for a reasonably engaging listen. In the booth we have co-writer/director Jill Sprecher, her co-writing sister Karen and editor Stephen Mirrione. The presence of the latter means that we stay mostly technical throughout the film’s duration but then they speak intelligently about the film even if you can’t find yourself agreeing with every word.

As with main feature, the commentary comes without optional subtitles, English or otherwise.

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Last updated: 23/06/2018 09:14:44

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