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WICKER PARK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Matthew Lillard, Diane Kruger
Director: Paul McGuigan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: December 28, 2004

“When you see something from afar, you develop a fantasy. But when you see it up close, 9 times out of 10, you wish you hadn’t.”

Film ***1/2

WARNING: This review may contain minor spoilers. I found that in order to review this movie, I would have to reveal a plot point or two since the film is filled with so many twists and revelations.

This is a haunting maze of a movie. Wicker Park, which has the appearance of a romantic thriller, is something much more special. Few films have been constructed like an intricate puzzle, both with plotline and narrative. Not since Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris has there been such a film experience.

Based on the 1996 French film, L’Appartement, the movie works as a convincing romance, as well as a convincing tale of a web of deception that leads to a pitch perfect revelation. Josh Hartnett plays Matthew, an investment banker living in Chicago. Actually, at this point, the story is at its middle point. Matthew has a decent job and is about to be married, but he is far from pure happiness.

Just before he is scheduled to take a business trip to China, Matthew can’t believe what he sees, or thinks he sees. His curiosity leads to full obsession, as he cancels his business trip to pursue what he believes is the woman he was very much in love with at one point. What separated them? That’s the mystery that is to be revealed.

The movie then intercuts several flashbacks revealing Matthew’s romantic fling with the woman he appears to be following. Her name is Lisa (Diane Kruger), and Matthew became acquainted with her by stalking her, like he maybe doing now. It was at one point where she and Matthew had the perfect romance. From the moment he laid eyes on her, he was smitten. He even attempts to pose as a shoe salesman when she enters the store where his best friend, Luke (Matthew Lillard), works.

Along the way, as Matthew continues his search for Lisa, he comes across a woman claiming to be Lisa (Rose Byrne). She finds him snooping around Lisa’s apartment. At this point, Matthew has absolutely no idea what to think. Secretly, the same woman is using another name and trying to woo Matthew’s best friend.

As Matthew finds the new girl attempting to come onto him, another event in the past reveals itself. We learn that before Lisa and Matthew ever met, she and Alex became roommates, and the closest of friends. This element will end up playing a vital role in the current debacle Matthew finds himself in.

That’s all I can afford to reveal about the movie. Wicker Park is hardly without a certain kind of twist in its every scene. Even if you end up being incredibly confused by the movie, I think it’s impossible not to become enticed by the multiple coincidences of the story and the much passionate performances by the cast.

Speaking of the cast, the cast of young actors is most outstanding. There’s a confrontational scene between Josh Hartnett and Rose Byrne, near the end of the film, which is nothing short of astonishing. Diane Kruger is something of a beauty, and Matthew Lillard, who were used to seeing in wacky over-the-top roles, demonstrates that he can do serious work just as good as comedy.

Directed with a lush style by Paul McGuigan, Wicker Park is one of this year’s most underrated films. Hopefully with its DVD release, it will find the audience it wasn’t able to reach in theaters. It’s a definite must see for fans of both romantic thrillers and films that challenge the mind.

Video ****

MGM concludes the year with what I think is indeed their single best video presentation of the year! Director Paul McGuigan makes perfect use of his visual imagery, which resonates beautifully in the anamorphic presentation. Image quality is stellar, scene for scene, and the colors are strikingly natural in tone. A largely detailed presentation of a superbly looking film. The highest of marks!

Audio ***1/2

Although the movie is essentially one that is powered by its dialogue, Wicker Park does happen to have a nice level of sound quality under its belt, thanks in part to the strong 5.1 mix. Music plays a key role in the presentation, with songs by such artists as Stereophonics and Coldplay are delivered in outstanding playback. Dialogue is extremely well delivered as can be, and several set pieces allow some terrific surround sound instances.

Features ***

I will give MGM immense credit for putting some nice extras onto this disc, though it isn’t really a heavy load. There’s a commentary track with director Paul McGuigan and Josh Hartnett, which is both most insightful and slightly humorous. In addition, there are some deleted scenes, a gag reel, a photo gallery, a music video for “Against All Odds” by The Postal Service, a soundtrack spot, a trailer, as well as bonus trailers.

Summary:

Wicker Park is a striking piece of cinematic storytelling. With its mind-blowing narrative approach, attractive cast, and effective story of love and obsession, this is an underrated piece that is not to be missed!

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