Elizabethtown Review

Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown suffers from a poor first act which soon builds up momentum into a rewardingly-cathartic third act that seems to brush most of the film's failings under the carpet. His latest film, which he has both written and directed as usual, is an interesting and admittedly flawed look at life, love and loss told through the eyes of young Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom). Drew has just had a very bad day – he is almost solely responsible for losing his company close to billion dollars – and the thing he fears more than anything is the loss of reputation that he is about to endure. Seemingly stuck between a very large rock and a very uncomfortable hard place, he makes one last decision: suicide is his only way out. Just as he is about to do the deed (in an alarmingly distasteful and comically-misguided scene), his cell phone rings and his sister (played by the wonderful Judy Greer) tells Drew that his father has just died…

With this opening premise, tinged with an uncomfortable level of cheek and almost farcical humour, Crowe gets off to a very bad start. Ignoring the massive implausibility of one, junior, employee losing his company a billion dollars with one design decision, the tone of Elizabethtown just doesn't sit right and it takes a good hour until the real strengths of the film begin to shine through. Perhaps this unconventional method of portraying emotion – specifically loss and grief – as something almost tongue-in-cheek is a characteristic of Cameron Crowe's writing, but then again I had no problem with the tone of both Vanilla Sky and Almost Famous. In fact, ignoring the hugely overrated Jerry Maguire, Crowe is usually a very perceptive writer who can create believable characters in plausible situations. With Elizabethtown, though, it's almost as if he's ticking off conventions from The Warm-Hearted, "Quirky" Humoured Hollywood Screenplay List – a son who wishes he'd said more to Dad, check, the bizarre relatives in some obscure backwater town, check, the grandiose and perfectly cinematic road trip home, check, the quirky-but-really-just-misunderstood girl who completes the protagonist's life, check…

It probably sounds like I didn't like Elizabethtown. Well, to be honest, Crowe squandered so much potential – a great cast, a potentially-powerful story and a fantastic soundtrack – and that annoyed me more than anything else. In actual fact, the third act is incredibly rewarding and worth the price of admission, but when the first two acts had so much promise but failed to deliver…it just dirties my experience with the film. Yes, the film is very funny in places ("Stop the cremation!"), but oddly off-balance in others. The characterisation is broad and similarly odd, with Kirsten Dunst's character coming off as something between a complete nut job and an advert for the air stewardess industry. Having said that, her chemistry with Bloom is largely excellent and the audience will buy into their relationship – even if it does sound slightly implausible that such a spark would be found in such dire circumstances.

Orlando Bloom, who is usually criticised and derided in his film roles, is actually a joy to watch and he does manage to nail the character's sense of foreboding and general discomfort with life. His facial expressions are brilliant and he certainly looks the part; it's just a shame that the script can't offer more substance and emotion for him to engage with. Similarly, Susan Sarandon, Judy Greer and Bruce McGill are all excellent in their supporting roles. Visually, the cinematography is excellent and it manages to capture the warm, bright hues of Kentucky with creative aplomb. Crowe's direction is less good, again proving that – much like Woody Allen – he is verging on becoming a "point and shoot" director, but his work is certainly functional.

Elizabethtown could have been great, there's no question about that. Sadly, the first half of the script sorely needed a hefty rewrite and reshaping in order to support the second half, yet Crowe decided to push on regardless. In doing so, he has effectively killed the finer points of his film and ensured that Elizabethtown will be equally remembered for both its flaws and indeed its successes. One to put down to experience, methinks.

The Disc
Released by Paramount, this R1 DVD is almost exactly identical to its R2 counterpart. The menus are designed well and they are easy to navigate; English and Spanish subtitles are provided during the main feature.

Audio-Visual Presentation
Separate widescreen and foolscreen editions have been released, but this is a serious film website and therefore it is the widescreen version that is reviewed here. The 1.85:1 anamorphic print, a ratio favoured by Crowe, is sharp, vivid and I found no real problems; there was the odd instance of aliasing, but that can be excused.

The soundtracks are similarly pleasing, with the 5.1 mix being the obvious highlight. The surrounds are used with good effect during scenes with music, and dialogue is presented crisply and clearly through the front channels. There is also a French 5.1 soundtrack and an English 2.0 mix included on the disc.

Two pointless featurettes (one without any dialogue whatsoever) and two extended scenes are the main "extras". The first extended scene adds to the "Rusty's Learning to Listen" scene, and the second is an extension to Drew's road trip home. Neither scene adds anything and were wisely cut. A photo gallery and a series of trailers – for Elizabethtown, Charmed, Yours, Mine and Ours, Aeon Flux and Ferris Bueller's Day Off – round off the package.

A frustratingly-flawed film is presented on an adequate disc that cries out for an audio commentary or substantive documentary, just so Cameron Crowe can explain why he ripped the heart and soul out of the first half of Elizabethtown. Perhaps a director's cut will surface in a few months – after all, it's all the rage these days – and that will shed some light on this mystery. As it stands, I'd recommend Elizabethtown as worthy of a rental but, sadly, nothing more.

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