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Feature


High school janitor Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church) left his hometown following an unnamed tragedy, and never looked back. He’s lived in relative obscurity for 25 years, and doesn’t intend on returning until the day he receives a mysterious letter from his high school sweetheart Sonny (Elisabeth Shue). Don cautiously takes a bus back home again, where he learns Sonny is dying of an unspecified condition. Sonny reveals her undying love to Don, and asks him to marry her before she dies. But there’s something fishy about her story, and her creepy healthcare providers make Don uneasy.

Don McKay
Don McKay gets off to a rough, and muddled start, and I certainly wouldn’t blame potential viewers losing interest and giving up. As the story unravels the drama threatens to keel over into self parody, and continuously contradicts itself tonally. Characters are emotionally stunted, hiding their pasts, but they constantly spill giant spoonfuls of over-share all over each other. The dialogue is perfectly natural, but everyone talks about stuff no one watching could possibly care about. I’m assuming writer/director Jake Goldberg is going for sort of Coen Brothers meet David Lynch thing, and the weird tone does mostly pay off when the plot takes an unexpected twist about 20 minutes into the listlessness. A sudden act of violence sets off an entirely different feature experience, and I finally figured out I was watching a semi-satirical take on classic American noir. The awkward speech patterns and character traits don’t really change, but the slightly slapstick take on violence definitively reveals a genuine comedic intent on Goldberg’s part. I almost wanted to stop the movie and start it over right there, but was suddenly stricken enough by the story I couldn’t stop before everything was revealed. Re-watching the film with Goldberg’s director’s commentary track playing, and all the final act reveals in mind, it’s clear everyone is playing a double role, which makes the stilted atmosphere more pertinent.

In the end Don McKay (which is an incredibly boring and somewhat misleading title, by the way) is no modern equivalent to The Big Sleep or Double Indemnity, but it fits the pulpy bill, and fills a need I didn’t know I had. I can’t say I had any specific idea where the story was going to twist next, which is more than I can say for even most good movies I’ve seen over the last year, and I laughed out loud with more regularity than I have at most straight comedies. The film doesn’t quite compare with hard-boiled re-appropriations like Rian Johnson’s Brick, which features more traditional noir dialogue, or The Big Lebowski, which is filtered through a more original modern prism, but on it’s own, less experimental terms Don McKay works once it finds it’s grove. Goldberg certainly has an eye for casting, though I suppose most of his actors are cast for type, including the continuously underappreciated Thomas Haden Church, who plays one of the best deadpan shlubs in modern cinema. Typed or not, the cast plays their heightened, hard boiled roles (Church is the guy returning to his dark past, Elisabeth Shue is the femme fatale, etc) without chewing too much scenery.

Don McKay

Video


Don McKay aims for mostly low-key visuals, but that doesn’t mean this particular 1080p transfer isn’t worth the time. The noir feeling isn’t an overt visual element, but is stirred into the mix enough to make for some interesting contrasts and highlights. Most scenes are under-lit, with soft, source aping key-lights. This darkness leads to some thoroughly deep blacks, especially in interior close-ups, where faces are halved by light and dark. Details are as sharp as the focus allows in a given shot, but save the occasional medium shot the majority of the film is made up of shots with very specific focal points. The palette choices aren’t overtly neo-noir by any means, but there are consistent stylistic touches, such as a slight greening or amber tinting, and popping primary elements. The overall grain inherit in the transfer, and the shallow focus make for some slightly fuzzy transitions, and less than needle point sharp edges, but I’m mostly left to assume that everything looks exactly as intended. The framing looks occasionally a little too tight on all sides, but I have no actual proof of misalignment, so I’m left to assume things are as intended.

Don McKay

Audio


This disc comes fitted with a rather soft, simple, low volume, low maintenance DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The characters all speak at a whisper (up until the poop hits the fan, at least), the interior shots feature almost no sound effects outside of simple folley and set recorded sound, and external scenes aren’t much more intense. I didn’t notice very many effects coming from anywhere other than front and center, save a few moving vehicles, and a cabby knocking frantically from the trunk of a car via the right channel. The music flutters through the dialogue heavy, and mood setting sequences, whispering much like the actors on screen, but composer Steve Bramson really lets it rip when things go badly for the title character. The more expressive musical moments are the track’s only real aural highlights, earning the stereo and surround channels with traveling dissonance, and the LFE with throbbing bass. The soundtrack also features a few Motown favourites, which have been warmly mixed into the front channels, with a decent bass punch, and rear channel echo.

Extras


The rather brief extras begin with a commentary track from director Jake Goldberger and producer Jim Young. This track is pretty much fills the basic requirements of a commentary track. It’s engaging in terms of tone, which is serious enough to get the facts out, but amusing and playful enough to not grow too stale. Every time the discussion threatens to devolve into the usual ‘it was so good working with (blank)’ fluff, Goldberger manages to whip out a funny, self-effacing anecdote. There’s very little wasted space, a story to tell, and not a lot of subject overlap. The disc also includes a collection of deleted scenes (4:50, SD). These mostly cover unnecessary little chunks of exposition. Extras end with the original trailer, which sells the film as a straight thriller.

Don McKay

Overall


Don McKay kicks off weak, but picks up after about 20 minutes, and is in general a nice surprise that deserves an audience. It’s unfortunate that Image is selling the film as a straight thriller, because it’s actually very funny in a very dry fashion, and successfully pays homage to classic, hard boiled film noir. I can’t really recommend a blind purchase, but do recommend a rental for impatient Coen Brothers fans looking to film the time between releases. The Blu-ray is relatively impressive visually, but doesn’t feature a whole lot of scope in the sound department. The extras feature a very playful and amusing audio commentary, which gives a good excuse for a second viewing.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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