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Monday, June 21, 2010

DON McKAY -- DVD review by porfle

The last thing I want to watch is some lame romantic dramedy, which is what DON McKAY (2009) looked like at first glance.  But just as I'm starting to think that's exactly what it is, something happens from out of the blue that shifts the film into a whole different gear altogether and makes me think, "Well okay, then!"  It's not quite as drastic as the tone shift in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, but it makes all the difference, and suddenly this quirky little dramedy has veered off into the same sort of twisted-noir territory you might find the Coen brothers lurking around in.

Even BLOOD SIMPLE's M. Emmett Walsh is there as Samuel the friendly but nosey old cabbie, who picks up Don at the bus station when he returns to his hometown after 25 years.  Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church), a lonesome high school janitor, just got an unexpected letter from his old girlfriend Sonny (Elisabeth Shue) telling him that she's dying and wants to spend her last days with him.  When he arrives at Sonny's house, her primly birdlike nurse Marie (Melissa Leo) seems predisposed to dislike him, as does Sonny's physician, Dr. Pryce (James Rebhorn), who acts resentful of Don's presence.  Sonny herself is so clinging and needful of Don that she hardly seems like the same person, and when she mentions marriage, he's nonplussed. 

That's just around the time that the thing happens, which I'd rather not reveal (and you might want to skip this paragraph if you haven't seen it), but it all starts with Don's allergic reaction to a bee sting during an unpleasant encounter that results in a bloody shirt he has to dispose of and a dead body in the backyard, which he must enlist his old friend Otis (Keith David) to help him get rid of.  Except when they go back for it, it's gone.  Don begins to doubt his own sanity when Sonny claims to have just spoken to the person the next day, and gets really nervous when Marie starts needling him with a wry "I know what you did" attitude.  But things get even weirder when people suddenly start to not be who they are, or be who they aren't, and blackmail him, and try to kill him, and start killing each other and blaming him for it, and doing all sorts of stuff that just plain puzzles Don.

The payoff of all this is the climactic kitchen scene, where all the main characters converge in a series of twists and turns and revelations that pop like a string of firecrackers.  Elisabeth Shue is dazzling to watch as her character, whom we've been trying to figure out the whole time, comes unwound in all directions while everyone else struggles to keep up with it all.  The tongue-in-cheek nature of Jake Goldberger's deviously clever script blends perfectly with the more traditional noir elements, and no matter how outrageous things get it never feels like a put-on.  The humor is so dry, it's almost dried-out.

Thomas Haden Church plays Don almost as though he were a close relative to the Coens' THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, except that in his own quiet, soulful way, he is there.  As we begin to root for this poor, unassuming shlub to somehow extricate himself from the mess his lonely heart has led him into, the character he resembles the most after all is Buster Keaton.  But while Buster's deadpan passivity masked a keen resourcefulness and will to survive, Don is always a confused half-step behind the incomprehensible events of his current situation, wielding his own common decency and stunned cluelessness as a fragile shield against the whirlwind of uncertain fate that seems to surround Sonny.

The film boasts above-average photography and Goldberger's direction is solid.  Besides the two leads, Melissa Leo ("Homicide: Life on the Street", RIGHTEOUS KILL) is a joy to watch as Marie, especially when her true colors emerge, and Pruitt Taylor Vance is fun as always in the role of Mel, another key player in whatever's going on that I'd rather not give away.  M. Emmett Walsh and Keith David offer their usual fine support in smaller roles.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen and Dolby 5.1 sound, with English and Spanish subtitles.  Extras include a talky, genial commentary with director Goldberger and producer Jim Young, about five minutes of deleted scenes, and a ridiculously overwrought trailer that makes this look like a dark, dead-serious thriller.

Speaking of the trailer, don't watch it before you see the movie.  In fact, don't read the DVD box, either, and whatever you do, don't read this review.  (Whoops...)  DON McKAY is a film best seen without any preconceptions except for those mistaken ones I mentioned before.  That way, you get so much more than you expected.

Buy it at
Don McKay
Don McKay [Blu-ray]

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