Review Date: June 22, 2010
Released by: Vivendi
Release date: 5/25/2010
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
It’s tough to think of directors that have exerted more influence over the aesthetic of mainstream film than the Scott brothers. With Alien
and Blade Runner
Ridley almost single-handedly defined the look of modern science fiction while the younger Scott, Tony, defined the Jerry Bruckheimer summer action look before anyone knew who Jerry Bruckheimer was. While Ridley branched out and made ambitious films in different genres Tony pretty much stayed in, and perfected, the action thriller. As influential as these two paragons are it’s surprising that they haven’t returned to the horror genre. Ridley’s second film, Alien
, is an unassailable horror masterpiece, as is Tony’s first, The Hunger
. After those early forays, however, they’ve pretty much stayed away from anything supernatural.
Although they’re only producing via their company Scott Free (veteran TV director Michael Cuesta helms) I had high hopes that Tell Tale
would signal the Scott brothers’ triumphant return to darker themes. Is Tell Tale a tale worth telling? Let’s peek into the heart of darkness and find out.
Terry Bernard (Josh Lucas
) is a self employed IT worker and single father. He’s also the recent recipient of a heart transplant. He does what he can to make ends meet since his wife left him and his daughter, Angela (Beatrice Miller
), suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes the connective tissue in her body to harden into bone and fuse to her skeleton. Always trying to find the silver lining in a bad situation, Terry begins dating the doctor responsible for his daughter’s care, Elizabeth Clemson (Lena Heady
On the way to one of his regularly scheduled check ups Terry sees an EMT help an injured man into the hospital, which prompts a vision he can’t explain. Along with the normal side effects one would expect from such a radical procedure as an organ transplant, Terry has also been experiencing strange hallucinations and acute feelings of intense anxiety. His doctor tries to assure him that every thing’s okay. When the doctor’s back is turned Terry snoops his file and finds the EMT’s name on his donor information sheet. He confronts the EMT, a jittery psychopath named Kevin Stanovich (Jamie Harrold
). When Stanovich attacks him with a broken bottle, Terry kills him in self-defence.
Unsure of what’s going on Terry does what all levelheaded people do; he hits the Internet. His ten seconds of Googling turns up pay dirt: the “donor” of Terry’s new heart and the donor’s wife were murder victims. As the bodies stack up it becomes clear that the heart is compelling Terry to seek out and eliminate those responsible for the murders. In his quest for he will cross the path of a vengeful cop (Brian Cox
) with a secret connection to the victims, as well uncover a medical conspiracy darker and more sinister than an HMO.
You have to feel for Josh Lucas. He’s a good actor with handsome, leading man looks yet he really hasn’t been able to catch a break. We can look back in hindsight at how films like Hulk
didn’t help his bankability but all three are projects that would have sounded like sure things on paper. It’s not hard to imagine that he was only ever a couple of savvy decisions away from where Bradley Cooper is today. Tell Tale really doesn’t employ Lucas’s natural charm; Terry is a mopey sad sack that is really hard to root for. That would be okay if this were a character study as opposed to a revenge thriller but the screenplay squanders the opportunity to explore Terry’s character. Groundwork is laid for possible feelings of guilt Terry has over passing on bad genes to his daughter who is suffering because of it. As it stands, the film lacks a strong central character to anchor the story. It doesn’t help that Terry’s supposedly weak and sickly, yet his six-pack is often on prominent display. Really, someone like Josh Lucas would be better off playing the cop or one of the villains.
Director Michael Cuesta employs some dramatic use of color that’s characteristic of the Scott brothers, especially Tony. Terry’s flashbacks and hallucinations are bathed in the kind of green and yellow hues that’d you’d see in one of Tony’s later action movies (such as Domino
) and the day scenes share the same sullen tone as Ridley’s Robin Hood
. Director Cuesta also gives us a stylish, erotic love scene that manages to take a left turn into Creepy Town but never has to resort to being unnecessarily explicit for effect. It’s not as bold as it could have been but it’s a step or two above what you’d expect from a direct-to-video feature.
The story purports to be a re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Telltale Heart
but any resemblance is tenuous at best. Actually, it bears more resemblance to Eric Red’s Body Parts
(itself based on the novel Choice Cuts
by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac). What Body Parts
has and Tell Tale
lacks, however, is clarity of narrative. When the script introduces a new plot element it does so in a way that seems to assume you have foreknowledge of it. There’s a point in the story where Terry is talking to his daughter about going to see “Harry’s skeleton,” as if we’re supposed to know what means. Then the film cuts to another plot line before cutting to the final reveal. Despite having a fairly simple and straightforward story, the presentation can make it hard to follow.
Like, how serious is the relationship between Terry and Elizabeth? As the movie starts they share their first kiss and near the end Terry’s talking about making Elizabeth guardian to his child. Isn’t the timeframe of this movie something along the lines of a week or two? Elizabeth must have been a great lay if Terry’s willing to sign over custody of his daughter to her after one romp in the sack. It would seem that I’m picking nits here but the nature and seriousness of this romance plays a pivotal, though not immediately apparent, role in the overall plot.
The pacing could also stand to be tightened up; by the time Tell Tale
builds some momentum, it’s practically over. I wasn’t expecting a roaring rampage of revenge but there are a lot of scenes that are drawn out past the point of usefulness. It really hinders the suspense or sense of urgency that you’d want in a film that aspires to be a thriller. If I were cynical I’d suggest that the filmmakers were simply padding the film out to feature length. But that would only be if I were cynical. Which I’m not. At all.
For a change the obligatory twist ending, and you just knew that it had to have a twist ending, doesn’t feel arbitrary or cheap. Tell Tale
genuinely earns the twist by laying the groundwork for it in the early scenes. It answers a question that had been nagging me during the entire movie and fills what had been a glaring plot hole. The plot device is introduced almost matter-of-factly, then ignored to the point where I though the film simply wasn’t going to address the elephant in the room. The final revelation, while not Earth shattering, was still unexpected enough that it slightly elevates the rest of the film.
With no special features or alternate audio tracks, there’s certainly ample room on this disc for Tell Tale
’s video quality. Terry’s freakouts and hallucinations are drenched in lots of bold, dramatic colors that are well represented here. Night scenes are also seething with steam bathed in pink and blue neon. The rest of the film’s palette is rather dour, although detail, such as the individual bricks on a church during a funeral scene, never suffers.
The only audio option included, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, is not as good as the video but about as good as one would expect from a direct-to-video release. For most of the movie the surrounds are completely inactive, making it effectively a stereo track. It’s a good stereo track; dialogue is always crisp and clear even when the characters speak in hushed tones. Occasionally the surrounds pop to life in night time scenes: the scene at the subway platform has all the ambient noise you’d expect from such an environment, though the scene really doesn’t take full advantage of all available channels. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers mix. Serviceable.
is an okay little thriller that would probably benefit from multiple viewings, not that you’d necessarily want to watch it a second time. It’s a decent little movie that’s stylishly directed but never really builds suspense or a sense of urgency, although it’s saved somewhat by a well-earned twist at the end. Considering that, although the video quality is above average, the audio is just average and the supplements are nonexistent, the best I can muster is a very weak recommendation as a rental, assuming there’s nothing else that you want to see or you have a 2-for-1 coupon.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - B+*
Sound - C
Supplements - F
- Running Time - 1 hour 32 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles