Best Laid Plans Review
Nick (Alessandro Nivola) lives in the grey, dead-end town of Tropico where he works at the local recycling plant. His father has recently died and, although Nick expected to come into enough money to enable him to escape Tropico, the tax man has other ideas. Nick’s a nice enough guy and he has a plan to leave Tropico by any means necessary. So when a friend asks him to drive a getaway car in a robbery, it sounds like easy money and he agrees. Of course, in a film titled “Best Laid Plans”, you can expect things to go wrong...but maybe not the extent to which they go wrong, or in which direction.
If that day ended badly, a future one gets even worse. Nick’s friend Bryce (Josh Brolin) phones in a panic to ask for his help and we learn that the blonde woman Bryce picked up in a bar the night before has accused him of statutory rape and has the ID to prove she’s underage. Nick rushes over to comfort his friend only to learn that rather than letting the girl (Reese Witherspoon) run away, he still has her locked in the house. Bryce is a teacher and the accusations being levelled at him could lose him his job, so he turns to his friend, Nick, to help him come up with a good plan to assuage the situation. Nick, of course, is willing to help his old friend, but his plans have a way of backfiring.
Actually, it’s quite hard to explain the plot of the film without giving key elements away, and there are many twists I’m unwilling to destroy in a review. It’s a suspense thriller where every cause has an effect and every action has a reaction. At one point the action flips back four months to explain how the characters got themselves in the situation shown in the opening scenes. Flashbacks are often annoying, but this one works better than most – you have developed an interest in the situation and the test for the director is then getting you back to the present without losing the pace of the story. As with many details of this film, it works, but not perfectly.
The film itself is beautifully shot, colours are rich and symbolic (mostly browns, reds and greens barely any blue) and the direction by Mike Barker (“Silent Witness”) mostly works, switching from intense scenes to much larger shots of Tropico and its inhabitants. The plot holds interest and the acting is very well done – one of the main strengths of the film is in the casting. The screenplay, written by Ted Griffin (“Ravenous”), is tight with comedic moments...although it is very far from being the comedy thriller that one of the trailers calls it. The film has flaws; there is no getting away from that basic fact that not every clue is obvious, not every moment wholly believable, and the ending leaves you feeling a bit at a loss. But, it’s an interesting story, very well acted as the cast list might indicate, and worth more than its poor cinema performance might suggest.
This is a beautifully crisp anamorphic transfer of the film. Colours are gorgeous and skin tones natural. Even in the dark scenes, characters stand out well and you can read expressions. Mike Barker makes a lot of use of space and colour in this film, and this, almost flawless transfer shows this off to full credit.
You have a choice between Dolby Surround and Dolby 5.1, and the latter shows off the film to maximum effect. Voices are well-defined and the music blends perfectly in the background. The score is by Craig Armstrong (who also worked on “Moulin Rouge” and “Romeo & Juliet”) and manages to highlight and accentuate the twists and intensity of the plot. The only very slight disappointment is that the film doesn’t require the back speakers or the sub-woofer very often – and that’s not really a criticism of the film, just a shame that you don’t get the full effect of such a nice transfer.
Trailers and TV spots gives you access to 2 full trailers and 3 TV spots used to advertise the film when it was first released. If you know little about the film, then it’s best to avoid these until after you’ve watched it. Not only do they give away too much of the plot for my liking but they misrepresent the film as a comedy thriller, something which it simply isn’t.
The deleted scenes section includes both an alternative opening and ending. There are 9 deleted scenes in total, and a few lines of text explaining each rather than a commentary to accompany them. They’re definitely interesting viewing and really highlight some of the original complexities and nuances that were meant for the story which were purged to make the film more accessible and comprehensible.
Interestingly, the commentary track included on “Best Laid Plans” involves not only the director but also the director’s assistant, Jeff Bayless. It’s not the most fascinating of commentaries, though it does involve some interesting information (including who now owns the pool table shown in the film) and the occasional gem. Shooting techniques and anecdotes are offered as well as comments on the acting and the reception given to the film crew by the town they were filming in. Mike Barker also explains some of the nuances and side plots that didn’t make the final cut and, as with the deleted scenes, this adds quite a bit for the DVD audience as it fleshes out the story and sits well with a viewing of the film.
There is also a featurette listed in the special features, although honestly this is just an elongated trailer, so don't turn it on expecting any insight. It should really be in the trailer section rather than in a standout section on its own.
Cast & crew bios are exactly what you’d expect. Bios include all three of the main actors, Mike Barker and Ted Griffin. In Ted Griffin’s biography you can also access a trailer for “Ravenous”, a nice extra touch.
Personally I think this is a great piece of film noir, well acted and beautifully shot. The talented cast is superb at bringing a range of emotions to the screen, particularly Reese Witherspoon, who fleshes out a complex and difficult character. The twists and turns in the plot are easy to follow and I like the fact that some of these make the audience more knowledgeable than the characters and others leave us just as much in the dark. The transfer on this DVD is excellent, bringing quality audio and video into the house. The extras add to the film, as they should, allowing insight into an expanded version of the story. Overall this is definitely worth a look-in, especially if you are a fan of any of the actors featured, or of film noir as a genre.