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ADAPTATION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper
Director: Spike Jonze
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2003

“I’ve written myself into my screenplay.”

“That’s kinda weird, huh?”

Film ***

Adaptation just might be one of the most daring and inventive films ever made. Though it may seem a little to self indulgent at times, director Spike Jonze, who directed the brilliantly mind-blowing Being John Malkovich, has a wicked taste for never-ending originality, and scene after scene, that what this film delivers, even when you’re not quite sure where the story is going. What makes this case a bit more special is the fact that the main character happens to be Charlie Kaufman, the very screenwriter of this movie.

Nicolas Cage, in stunning duel role, stars as twin brothers Charlie and Donald. Charlie has always wanted to write screenplays for the kinds of films no one ever tries to make. His latest desirable opus is a film about flowers, since no one has ever done a movie about flowers before. Charlie is clearly a talented writer. The opening of the film shows him on the set of Being John Malkovich, but outside his work, Charlie is a nervous wreck. He wants to meet a girl, but fails miserably when even trying to strike a conversation with the first woman who bothers to speak to him. The only emotions Charlie seems to know how to display are sadness and awkwardness.

Donald is the complete opposite of Charlie, in more ways than one. Donald is a hot wire, partying all the time, and bringing a girl home at least every night. Donald is also a screenwriter, but he rejoices in writing screenplays that stick more to Hollywood formulas. He is currently working on a murder mystery, which becomes more preposterous to Charlie the more he hears his brother’s ever evolving ideas about how to make the story more interesting.

Charlie is on the brink of a breakdown while trying to come up with a convincing way to start off his screenplay. The story he wants to do is an adaptation of the novel “The Orchid Thief”, written by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep, in a wonderful performance). The movie flips back and forth between Charlie creating his script, and events in the past where in which Susan strikes an eccentric relationship with John Laroache (Chris Cooper), the man who was the very inspiration for her novel. Laroache has had a longtime fascination with orchids, which places him in a list of men in history obsessed with the same flower.

Finding it very difficult to adapt a book with no detectable storyline, Charlie finds himself sorely stuck on how to make this into a believable piece of film. He is advised by Donald to attend a seminar in New York held by Robert McKee (Brian Cox). What McKee advises is to break down the movie classics, steal from them and proceed with such formula. Cox’s speech is one of the film’s strongest moments.

I feel as if my summation of the plot should end right here, because the film certainly has a few surprises in store by its end. As I mentioned before, the film can be a little bit self-indulgent, but at the same time, most works of pure originality almost always are. The performances are nothing short of astounding. Cage is stunning in the way he is able to separate Charlie and Donald, since the two are strikingly identical, and the chemistry between Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, who won an Oscar for this performance, is fine and quite memorable.

Adaptation is a film that is certainly out there. Those who watch it maybe scratching their heads afterward, but when it all comes together you will realize what an intriguing piece this was. Not as strong as Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, but a worthy follow-up indeed.

BONUS TRIVIA: Several cast members of Being John Malkovich, including John Cusack, Catherine Keener, and John Malkovich, make brief cameos.

Video ****

The word Superbit should define the quality of this disc. While it may mean a lack of extras, it certainly means a breakthrough image and audio performance. The whole film has a weird sense of atmosphere and setting, and this video presentation from Columbia Tri Star enhances this effect. Colors are superbly natural and rendered perfectly, and the cinematography done by Lance Acord (Being John Malkovich) is presented strikingly in this presentation.

Audio ****

The Superbit effect is illustrated in the audio department, and although Adaptation is a film made up mostly of dialogue, several technical aspects are put to extravagantly terrific use. The dynamic range of the 5.1 mix is virtually endless. The opening alone, which is nothing but credits and a voice over by Cage, is given a strong delivery thanks to this audio mix. Overall, the kind of superb sounding performance from a film that you don’t expect to have.

Features *

Included on this Superbit disc is a trailer and several filmographies.

Summary:

While it clearly may not appeal to everyone, Adaptation is certainly a unique kind of film experience, with intriguing pacing and strong performances from the leads.

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