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IT'S THE RAGE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  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

Film **1/2

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 Giovanni Ribisi. 

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.

Video ***

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. 

Audio ***

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 well.

Features ***

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.

Summary:

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.