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ABANDON

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam
Director:  Stephen Gaghan
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  March 18, 2003

“This whole experience is so far out of my normal range of things.”

Film *

There are smart thrillers and there are dumb thrillers, but Abandon is the worst kind…the dumb thriller that thinks it’s a smart one.  In actuality, it’s a movie that needs to see the Wizard…it doesn’t have a brain, a heart, or courage.

I was bored and impatient while watching the movie.  After, when I learned that the writer/director of this picture was Stephen Gaghan, who earned an Oscar for the screenplay to Traffic, I had to add depression.  For my sanity, I’m going to tell myself that this adapted screenplay was something he did in school and left untouched in his desk until now.  If you know differently, don’t tell me…I don’t want to know.

It takes place on a college campus.  The kids are supposed to be ultra-smart.  We know because they throw around references to Zoaraster and anti-globalization.  But they’re meaningless buzz words.  Other things exist only for flavor…a rave party that drags on and on and has no effect on the narrative, guidance counselor sessions, and of course, everybody working on theses.  It’s an absurd game of pick-up sticks with college clichés.  Did anybody who makes a film about college life ever actually experience it, or were they so shut away that they write screenplays about what they think they missed?

At any rate, the film’s mystery, if you want to call it that, centers around the disappearance of a music student named Embry Langam (Hunnam).  He’s made out to be the heir apparent to Puccini; a genius who (wow!) gives performances under the stage instead of on top it, has a ready-made Leopold tousled hair look, and talks in arrogant gibberish, but apparently doesn’t know enough to have his choir members hold their music up high instead of down at belly level so that their heads aren’t dropped and closing off their throats.

After a big performance, and right before graduation, he disappeared without a trace.  Is he dead?  Considering he left his financial assets untouched and a pair of unused plane tickets, that’s a good guess.  But then again, he was a goofy artist, so pulling a vanishing act wouldn’t be out of character for him…a great relief to the plot, because without that, there’s no real story.  Detective Wade Handler (Bratt) is assigned to the two year mystery, and he decides to focus on Embry’s girlfriend Katie (played by Katie Holmes…easy to remember).

The film is about an hour and a half.  Its story could have been told in 30 minutes.  There’s more padding here than in a bulletproof vest factory.  Sequences that serve no purpose are lingered over.  Flashbacks that disrupt the narrative have little importance, and though they’re easy to follow, they don’t flow in and out of the storyline with ease.  It’s almost as if Gaghan hoped to stumble across some style by accident.

Ironically, I’m guessing the padding is because most modern thrillers clock in at about 90 minutes.  Only a few masters like Hitchcock could really get away with a 2 hour running time.  This drawn out film seems to wallow in tedium a few times too often in order to make a picture for the short attention span generation.  If there’s one audience this movie is NOT for, it’s those with short attention spans.

I like Katie Holmes, but this is kind of thankless role that Gaghan tries to make juicy with a nice trump card here and there.  Time and time again I imagined Ms. Holmes asking, “What’s my motivation?” only to have her director answer, “I’ll try to give you one in the editing room.”

Benjamin Bratt brings a nice, well rounded approach to what is essentially a clichéd cop role.  He manages to bring a little more soul to the part than is called for.

This movie made me restless.  It was ludicrous enough to merit a raised eyebrow or two, but took itself too seriously for laughter.  I might have preferred that.  By the time it dragged its heels listlessly towards a conclusion I figured out long in advance, I wasn’t feeling a bit of suspense.  Except for the anticipation of the end credits and finally getting my life back.

Video ****

This is a top notch anamorphic transfer from Paramount (a pan & scan version is also available; if you want to see this movie, avoid it because certain ‘clues’ are newspaper clippings that run the full width of the screen).  The film has many great settings that are well photographed and filled with detail, as well as a strong range of lighting schemes from bright to dismally dark…all of it plays with sharpness and clarity, and good natural coloring.  No distortions, grain, or evidences of compression mar the viewing experience.  High marks.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is satisfying, though amusingly enough, even the sound sometimes represents the movie’s problems.  If you need to pad a scene, layer sounds like music, nondescript dialogue and singing over drawn out images, and you’ve got nothing that looks like something.  That’s the fault of the director, though, not the audio, and for the most part, this plays out well, with good dynamic range, dialogue clarity and selective but effective use of the .1 channel and surrounds.  

Features ***

The extras are generous enough, starting with a commentary by Stephen Gaghan and DP Matthew Libatique.  Gaghan also lends commentary to some deleted and extended scenes.  Rounding out are a standard production featurette and trailers for this movie and The Four Feathers.

Summary:

Abandon is a long, meandering walk with almost all false steps, slowly stumbling its way to an absurd conclusion.  Steven Gaghan was either a one hit wonder with his script for Traffic or he just had a major off period when scripting this picture.  Either way, it remains to be seen whether or not the director's chair is for him.