Last Word, The (Blu-ray) (2008)
Deleted Scenes-(9:09) Six scenes 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced
Gallery-Photo-12 stills in 1080p - unnecessarily framed
Theatrical Trailer-Six inferior trailers of obscure films
|Year Of Production||2008|
|Running Time||92:46 (Case: 94)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Geoffrey Haley|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (1536Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||None||Smoking||Yes, Moderate and in character|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes, Important character and plot information.|
The young writer / director Geoffrey Haley learned his craft as camera operator on a number of films and TV productions, including Six Feet Under. In 2001 he wrote and directed an eleven minute short film, The Parlor, which garnered some acclaim, and now, with The Last Word, this extremely promising talent has his first feature film, a film which hopefully will lead to further opportunities for this already accomplished filmmaker.
The slick promises "a romantic comedy where opposites attract", a tale of "love, lies and botched goodbyes". It is unfortunate that these misleading statements may attract an audience which is going to be disappointed, as well as alienating those who will find satisfying fare in this terrific little film. The Last Word is most definitely not a romantic comedy. Comedy, yes, but in the classic Shakespearean sense of the word. This is a tale of human frailties and foibles, of man and woman stumbling through life attempting to make sense of it all, and to make meaningful human contact in a basically isolating word. In fact this is a comedy which is the complete opposite of romantic, a term which, again classically, means "idealised". These characters are definitely not anyone's notion of "ideal".
Evan (Wes Bentley) is a young would-be poet who has stumbled into an unusual "vocation". He writes death notes for unfortunate individuals who have decided that suicide is the only way out of their present situations. Evan has interviews with his clients, fashioning each note to the particular sensitivities of the individual, while drawing heavily on quotations from past successful writers. This sombre young man is isolated from his fellow beings, and attends the funerals which finalise each assignment not out of regard for the deceased, but in order to critique his created work in performance. He stands apart from the mourners, pencil and pad in hand, objectively assessing his words. At the funeral of one sad young man Evan is confronted by the deceased's sister, Charlotte (Winona Ryder), who is curious about this unknown young mourner's man's connection to her brother. On the spot Evan concocts a tale of college friendship with the Charlotte's brother. This begins a tenuous relationship between the two, initiated by Charlotte's pursuit of the isolated Evan. Meanwhile, Evan is dealing with other clients, one of whom is a frustrated composer, Abel (Ray Romano). Abel had had earlier "serious" success, even writing a performed symphony, but is now composing telephone "holding" music.
Haley's film sees modern man as being isolated in society, dominated by the technology which surrounds and obsesses him. Cast your eyes to the out-of-focus diners in the background of an early scene. At one table a middle-aged woman ignores her dining partner, ear glued to her cellphone, while at another table two young diners are individually immersed in laptops. Haley, as both writer and director, is extremely subtle and never stresses these issues, but the movie is pervaded with this attitude, which makes wonderful sense of the film's final moments.
The casting of the three leads contributes much to the success of the film. Coming from disparate professional origins, these are not performers we would expect to see together in the one film. Wes Bentley (The Four Feathers / American Beauty) is a stage trained Julliard graduate while Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands / The Age of Innocence) is a true child of Hollywood, with stratospheric career and personal highs, and recent abysmal lows. Different again is Ray Romano, with a background in stand-up comedy and monstrous TV success with Everybody Loves Raymond. All three are excellent. Bentley has a similarity to Toby Maguire, but not quite so quirky. His cold, clear eyed pensiveness is perfect for what could be a really alienating character. Instead we strangely feel for this young man, who is so cold and calm on the surface, a surface which conceals unexpressed rage, genuinely frightening when it is finally unleashed. Winona Ryder is beautiful and touching as Charlotte, a young woman dealing with issues we are not always aware of. She is one of the great beauties of the modern screen and it is greatly satisfying to see her returning from her own professional wilderness. Ray Romano is enormously effective in a role which could have become an easy grab for laughs. Instead, Romano plays it for real and is totally convincing, allowing the audience to find the comedy for itself.
This is a dialogue driven film, and the words are concise, true, meaningful and often very funny. Haley draws his characters with great economy, choosing to make strong broad strokes for each of the three main individuals, leaving the audience to fill in the picture for themselves. Minor characters are also observed brilliantly, both in writing and execution. Look, for one example, at the dinner scene when Charlotte takes Evan to "meet the family". This is not comedy of the "Focker" variety, but is comic observation - accurate, witty and true. There are no caricatures here, but sometimes hysterically funny characters, captured by a very clever writer. As director, Haley also impresses. This is a "little" film, made with hand-held cameras, but controlled and having the look of a much more expensive studio product. Not glossy and glitzy, but accomplished, controlled and disciplined. The Blu-ray transfer may not have the quality of the big budget productions, but with the exception of a few shots - strangely including the exterior rooftop scenes - the image is sharp and clear, with wonderfully detailed close-ups. Haley also makes one of the best dramatic uses of surround sound that I have ever heard in a film. Coming late in the plot, in the climactic scene between Evan and Abel, the involvement of the surround channels becomes an integral dramatic force, rather than merely the usual effect for the sensation itself. Excellent use is also made of unusual Los Angeles locations and of music, both original (John Swihart), which includes Abel's lovely symphony, and commercial, including an attractive bossa nova.
The more I think back on this film the better it becomes. This is a film to see more than once, that delivers the unexpected. Geoffrey Haley has other projects in the pipeline, and his is a name to watch. In the meantime, The Last Word delivers more satisfaction than a dozen other so-called comedies. If you don't buy, make sure you rent it.
One disappointment. We are given a 1.78:1 transfer of the film, which was filmed in Panavision and released on Blu-ray in the US in the ratio of 2.35:1.
Although there is rarely any doubt that you are watching a Blu-ray disc, this is not always a stunning visual experience, although the close-ups are at times amazingly detailed.
The transfer is presented in a 16x9 enhanced transfer at the ratio of 1.78:1. The IMDB gives the original theatrical ratio as 2.35:1, which is the ratio of the US Blu-ray release.
The transfer does not have the consistent clarity of the best transfers, but is generally very satisfying. Detail varies from eye-popping to so-so, with darker scenes coming off worse. There is some low level noise.
Colour is generally fine, with excellent, natural skin tones. There are instances of a washed out look, perhaps an attempt to get the sun-drenched feel of LA.
There was no instance of aliasing, but slight edge enhancement was noted.
There are no film artefacts.
There are no subtitles.
There are two audio streams, both English, DTS-HD and Dolby Digital 5.1
This is a dialogue driven film and the disc delivers a totally satisfying audio experience.
There is very little movement across the front, and the surrounds are subtly, but extensively, used for ambient sounds providing an involving urban soundstage, both interior and exterior.
There are, though, a couple of stand-out auditory highlights. Firstly, the LA club visited by Charlotte and Evan, where the subwoofer almost dances off the floor. Then there is the climactic scene between Romano and Bentley, which makes dramatic and meaningful use of the rear channels. I have never heard sound used so well in a dialogue scene. Great stuff.
Every syllable of the dialogue is brilliantly sharp and clear. There are no sync problems, or glitch of any kind.
All music is beautifully reproduced, from the lovely "symphony" of the plot, through the attractive bossa nova and more commercial offerings. The surrounds are very generously employed during these sections.
|Surround Channel Use|
|DVD||SONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Speakers||VAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)|