IT'S THE RAGE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Joan Allen, Andre Braugher, Josh Brolin, Jef Daniels, Robert Forster,
Anna Paquin, Giovanni Ribisi, David Schwimmer, Gary Sinese, Bokeem Woodbine
Director: James D. Stern
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: August 15, 2000
A lot of young filmmakers, particularly the ambitious ones,
like to mimic the style of movie making made famous by Robert Altman.
That is, to create a wide palate of characters, ease them into and out of
each othersí spheres of influence, and try to maintain a cohesive and
worthwhile story amidst all the style points.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesnít.
I think itís important to remember that not even Robert Altman always
succeeds in trying to make a Robert Altman film.
Thatís the kind of category Itís the Rage falls into. A
wide variety of characters, played by a terrific cast, play out in their own
stories, and manage to come into one anotherís worlds, sometimes at moments
that are pivotal, other times just for show.
The common denominator is guns. A
lot of these people are carrying them. Most of them shouldnít.
The movie purports to be two things:
a black comedy and a message picture.
It doesnít really succeed as either.
Despite a few good laughs, overall, the film just isnít funny enough to
work as a comedy. It makes the
mistake of substituting a great deal of eccentricity for humor.
Eccentricity can heighten comedy, like a good spice, but rarely is funny
in and of itself.
As a message picture, it only succeeds in the opening
credits (a very well done montage, with titles created in exactly the same font
as Kubrickís Dr. Strangelove), and
in the epilogues before the end credits, which follows up not only on the
characters, but their guns. Again,
the eccentricity ruins any chance the picture has to make a coherent statement
about guns during the story. Most
of these people are nuts, for lack of a better word. Give them guns, and what do you have? Nuts with guns. And
the statement, if thereís supposed to be one, gets a bit lost in the mix.
A central problem of the structure is that the characters
to a person are all rather two-dimensional, if not flat out caricatures.
I can understand why the actors were attracted to their respective
rolesÖeach one was probably fun to playÖbut itís hard to become
emotionally involved from an audienceís standpoint.
A film can have a character or two like these and still work, but to be
completely populated with them is a bit much to ask.
But the cast is terrific, and the acting alone is worth
watching the film for. Each member
does a good job, but the most memorable are two seasoned veterans, Joan Allen
and Gary Sinese, and two of the best young actors working, Anna Paquin and
The story kicks off when Helen (Allen) comes downstairs
from her bedroom to the sound of gunshots, and finds her husband Warren
(Daniels) standing over the body of his dead partner.
His explanations are a little less than believable.
While his lawyer, Tim (Braugher) is getting him off the hook, Helen
decides itís time to leave her husband and his petty jealousies behind.
She takes a job as an assistant to a whacked-out software genius, Norton
(Sinese), whose former assistant Tennel (Brolin) has quit to follow his dream
job ofÖum, working in a video store.
Problems occur in the story when a retired cop, Tyler
(Forster) and his partner on the inside, Agee (Woodbine), decide to follow up on
the strange circumstances of Warrenís release, and when lawyer Tim begins
having an affair with the raucous Annabel Lee (Paquin), who has a strange quirk
of shoplifting without caring whoís watching her. This leads to further complications with Timís off-centered
live-in boyfriend Chris (Schwimmer), as well as Annabelís REALLY off-centered
brother, Sidney (Ribisi).
Naturally, Iíve only sketched the broad strokes
hereÖthough for the most part, the movie plays out like a series of broad
strokes. The handgun is the
unifying image, although for long stretches, it disappears from the story and
from our memories. It comes back in
ways that are both funny (as when a barroom incident causes characters from all
over to reach for their guns at the same times), and sometimes scary and
suspenseful: the D. W. Griffith
styled cross-cutting climax is quite a tour-de-force, and is structurally the
best part of the film. You figure
not everybody is going to survive, and you also know most of these people are
crazy enough to pull the trigger, so itís safe to say, you donít know
whatís going to happen when situations come to a boil.
In the end, what does it all mean? Is it a statement against guns in general, or are we to
conclude that responsibility for acts of violence falls on the individuals who
commit them, rather than the tools they used to do so? Iím guessing itís supposed to be the former, but I
wasnít completely convinced. Ultimately,
for a message picture to leave you confused about the message is, quite frankly,
a film that has missed the target by quite a bit.
This is another good example of a no-real-complaints
anamorphic transfer from the good folks at Columbia Tri Star.
Images are generally very sharp and clear, with good detail, and only an
occasional bit of noticeable softness. Colors
arenít particularly brightÖIím betting it was filmed that wayÖbut they
are all well rendered and contained, with no bleeding or clarity issues.
Overall, the print is clean and free of dirt and debris, and neither
grain nor compression artifacts are anywhere to be found.
Most of the 5.1 soundtrack is front stage, with a good
forward mix, clear dialogue, and nice dynamic range. The audio REALLY comes to life during the scenes in
Nortonís office, which is a giant room surrounded by large monitors.
The rear channels kick in nicely, each with itís own channel of
information, and the 5 main speakers are all used to create the cacophony of
information that is Nortonís world. Later, when his stereo blasts, the subwoofer comes alive with
tremendous bassÖyouíll be able to feel the vibrations.
The soundtrack also features a good score from Devoís Mark Mothersbaugh.
All in all, a good mix, and one that services the structure of the movie
For starters, this DVD features a commentary track by first
time feature director James D. Stern, a long time theatrical veteran.
Heís a good, relaxed speaker, and offers plenty of information,
including how the film grew from a simple play, what it was like to work with
the actors, and even his techniques on using camerawork to comment on the
characters: Annabel and Sidney are
always filmed with jerky hand held cameras, while Helen is always shot with more
fluid, graceful camera movements. I
also learned a little bit more about his feelings on guns than what actually
came across in the film.
The disc also contains two sets of talent files, one for
the actors, and one for the filmmakers (director, writer, producers) with both
bios and filmographies, a trailer, and a short but informative 15 minute
featurette on the making of the film. The
latter features interviews will all the principal cast members, who share their
enthusiasm about the project and about working with one another.
Itís the Rage is an exercise in style over substance, which would have been better had the picture not tried for and failed to achieve said substance in the course of the story. It boasts a terrific ensemble cast and some moments of superb technical achievement for first time feature director James D. Stern, and makes for a decent eveningís entertainment, even if it doesnít leave you with as much to talk about afterwards as the filmmakers might have hoped.