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Abandon (Widescreen)

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Drug and Alcohol Content, Sexuality, Some Violence and Language)

Running Time: 98 minutes

Starring: Katie Holmes, Benjamin Bratt, Charlie Hunnam, Zooey Deschanel, Gabrielle Union, Gabriel Mann, Melanie Lynskey, Will McCormack and Fred Ward

Suggested by the Book "Adam's Fall" by: Sean Desmond

Written and Directed by: Stephen Gaghan

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan and Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, "A Look At The Darkside" - The Making Of Abandon, Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (24 Scenes)

Released: March 18th, 2003

 

 

Catherine "Katie" Burke's (Katie Holmes) life isn't in a very good state right now. As a student at a very elite college, she's facing a load of work, pressure to finish her thesis and find a worthwhile job upon graduation. Of course, things have to get worse for poor old Katie when a detective by the name of Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt) enters her life. Handler, who has his own shady past, is investigating the disappearance of musical prodigy Embry Langan (Charlie Hunnam). Gone for two years, the memory of Embry still hangs in Katie's mind. Now it's up to the two to discover what happened to Embry, and how he might be linked to some other doings.

I suppose one of the beautiful things when you win an Oscar is that if you're an up and coming talent, (most of the time) you'll have your choice at great projects or might be fortunate enough to do your own. This had to be the case for Stephen Gaghan, who penned 2000's "Traffic" and won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for it. So yep, he got to write his own movie (very loosely based on a novel) and direct it. The result was this movie, "Abandon." It was a flop when it opened and crtics didn't care much for it either, as it died a quick and somewhat painful death in October 2002. While I wasn't expecting the absolute worst (Stephen Gaghan is talented - or so I say) when I sat down to watch the movie, I didn't get my hopes up too high. I'm happy to report the film was much better than I anticipated and kept me interested until the very end.

Gaghan's main focus in his writing seems to be mixing tension-filled stories with fleshed out characters with their own inner demons to overcome. That focus is a mainstay in "Abandon," so you know this project is definitely along the lines of the writer (and now director). While I wouldn't say all the characters in "Abandon" are incredibly developed and that most of them are pretty predictable as far as their nature and actions, Gaghan gives us just enough of the important characters so that we can empathize with the ones we're supposed to and make us feel that they are all indeed realistic. Certainly, he succeeds with that and I found the characters to be moody as well as very intriguing.

The backstories of Katie and Wade are very effective which make them pretty clear cut characters. I personally liked how during tense times Katie faces she retreats to her sacred memories which do help establish her pain and what she is feeling. Emotions tend to parallel and intertwine, and I felt that was the best part of Gaghan's script. The mystery itself takes a little to get into and might be a bit convulted at times, and I thought the payoff was a bit disappointing. Still, Gaghan gradually builds as Wade researches and keeps tries to crack through with little details and reach Katie personally. Gaghan's dialogue is sharp and there are some humorous moments that are brief but enjoyable. I found the mystery to suck me in little by little, but in retrospect, I was hoping for more and at times I felt there could have been more depth and less filler. Nonetheless, his script is strong in key areas. The movie is still entertaining but it definitely needed a little more tweaking to get the tone more established and what Gaghan was trying to put forth.

Gaghan also makes his directorial debut with "Abandon," and he does a marvelous job that really impressed me. I'm sure he learned a thing or two when he was involved in writing for television and from Stephen Soderbergh (who collaborated quite closely on "Traffic"), but at an hour and a half or so, the film is a brisk ride. Gaghan packs in some impressive shots and gives the movie a sleek style with the appropriate attention on the tension and relationships. The editing is clever and the pace is pretty fine as the film comes across as even. The mysterious nature the film has kept me wondering, and I loved that score from Clint Mansell that is perfectly pitched. Oh, and how the songs fit into some of the scenes are clever as well. I think Gaghan as potential to be a great director, especially if he directs from his own material (I'm sure he'll write something superior to "Abandon" and pack of the "Traffic" level sooner or later).

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm wondering if the "Dawson's Creek" kids are doomed to have terrible movie careers once the show ends this year (I certainly hope not, since I think they all actually are talented). While I don't think Joshua Jackson pre-"Dawson's Creek" counts with The Mighty Ducks films, it seems James Van Der Beek has been the sole exception when "Varsity Blues" was a surprise sleeper hit a few years back. Other than that, none of the foursome seem to have been in any major hits (though some have been in crtical darling which certainly does count for something) and Katie Holmes is the latest to seem to have suffered the "Creek Curse" (that's what I call it) with "Abandon" since the film bombed at the box office.

Truth be told, she's quite good in the movie and the whole cast is uniformally excellent. Holmes exhibits a fine vulneribility and perfectly shows off the stress and pain her character is facing and has faced. She's soft when she has to be, she's impressive when she's strong and when she's scared or insecure you do see raw emotion. As great as Holmes in, I thought Benjamin Bratt stole the show. He's been doing well quite lately when it comes to strong roles, and I hope he keeps that up. Bratt is a charming fellow and in this movie, his performance can be a bit subdued (that's a good thing) but feels so natural and graceful at the same time. He's definitely an excellent actor and the film is worth watching for his solid performance, so I hope the roles keep coming to him. Each character

The supporting cast of the movie is also great. Fred Ward as Wade's boss is only a bit part but Ward handles his mannerisms quite well. Zooey Deschanel, another amazing talent to watch, provides some comic relief and establishes more of Katie's stressful atmosphere as her friend and roommate. Gabrielle Union is nice as another of Katie's friends, while Will McCormack also exceeds in his small part. Still, yet another person to watch and another person who does a great job in this movie is Charlie Hunnam as Embry. There's a vital creepiness and intensity to him which I really liked, so yeah, I'm curious what acting jobs he'll do next.

In all, "Abandon" is a film that did entertain me but wasn't as impressive as it probably could have been. I liked the plot and I liked the characters, and for the most part, Gaghan gives the audience a solid execution. With that said, the film isn't really filled with suspense or scary moments of any kind which might disappoint some of you. And while I felt the story arc itself got lost along the way, the actors work quite well with the material. If you don't want to think and just want to see a not-so-thrilling suspense movie that has its own charms, then "Abandon" is worth looking into.

 

 

Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a seperate full screen version is also available if you're so inclined to check that out), "Abandon" is one of the best Paramount transfers I've seen lately. The only flaws are that blemishes that pop up here and there (which can be a bit distracting when they're in bulk), a scratch or two, slight dirt pieces, some shimmering, a little bit of noise and some edge halos (how I can't stand those). Other than that, this transfer is lovely. Detail is fantastic, fleshtones are pitch perfect and are quite impressive while the color saturation is nothing short of exceptional with bold colors and rich blacks. The film is a tiny bit grainy, but the image has so much depth and really just pops out at you. Certainly, this is a great image.

 

The English 5.1 Dolby Digital track included is very strong and perfectly fits the movie like a tight glove. The mix creates a very nice ambiance that is perfectly draws the lines of eerie creepiness and tension. The scenes containing violence pack effective punches that blaze up the channels and really hook you in. Other surround effects that work surprisingly well are the party scenes and people talking in the background. The sleek, haunting, hairs-on-end score by Clint Mansell gets its chance to shine in the mix too as it spreads itself across the speakers nicely. Dialogue is sharp and crystal clear so no one should have trouble hearing anything. The subwoofer also gets its moments to shine, moments which did impress me. In all, this is a wonderful 5.1 mix that does not disappoint in the slightest bit. Also included are English subtitles and English closed captions plus an English Dolby Surround track and a French Dolby Surround track.

 

Even though the film wasn't the success Paramount probably hoped it to be when the film was released in October 2002, it certainly does not get jilted in the extra department. The main feature here is the Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan and Cinematographer Matthew Libatique. I really enjoyed this track. Gaghan talks plenty, but Libatique gets his say in too. Each talker has a soothing voice, and there are plenty of details that go around. Gaghan gets a bit nostalgic at the start as far as something he wanted to do with the opening titles, but most of his comments are pretty technical on directing which I really did like. He talks about visuals and what is incorporated in them, while Libatique adds on with some more technical details and references. Gaghan talks about the story too, but not as much as I would have hoped for. It's basically a solid discussion with great details about two guys who did enjoy working on this project, and that is certainly respectable (Gaghan even grades himself on directing scenes). I don't think casual fans of the movie will enjoy this track so much, but if you enjoyed it to some extent and are curious, then it's certainly worth listening too.

"A Look At The Darkside" - The Making Of Abandon is a somewhat promotional featurette with cast and crew interviews dispensed with film clips, stills and on-the-set footage. Benjamin Bratt, Katie Holmes, Stephen Gaghan, Charlie Hunnam and Gabrielle Mann talk about the elements of the film: the cast, the story, the characters, the themes and Gaghan even reflects on his own younger self. Gaghan also talks about the casting process, his experiences as a first time director and scoring as well (which I found pretty fascinating). It's a bit fluffy, but still worth watching as it does have some insights. Be warned though: it gives away some minor spoilers so see the movie first and then watch this. This all lasts under 22 minutes.

There are some nice Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Writer/Director Stephen Gaghan: "Pre-interview Jitters," "Everybody Love Sam," "Sunset Kisses," "'If she's not in the book, she's not in the library'", "'...Find any clues?'" and "Alternative Theatre." They're presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and are completed, so they do look nice visually. They really don't add much to the story or movie so it probably won't change your feelings about the film, but they are fun to watch and do entertain. Gaghan's comments are great. He explains the cuts, but he's so enthusiastic about the scenes and describes what they add up to. Worth looking into.

Finally, there are two Theatrical Trailers: one for "Abandon" and one for "The Four Feathers." Both are in non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround.

 

"Abandon" isn't the greatest suspense ride ever made, but it certainly is fun and is rather intriguing. This DVD is very pleasing on all acounts: the transfer is great, the sound mix is wonderfully moody and the detailed extras help round out a nice package. Fans of the film (or Katie Holmes) should snap this up, otherwise, a Saturday night rental should be satisfying.