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Critics and audiences have a tendency to treat realistically rendered crime films a little too gently. The fact of the matter is that I can’t think of more than maybe a dozen realistically rendered crime films that aren’t entirely interchangeable from each other. Perhaps I’m just not as ‘into’ the genre as the majority of audiences, because lord knows I’ve been patient with more zombie movies than most of humanity. But from my point of view What Doesn’t Kill You, despite being based on a true story, is a generic ‘crime doesn’t pay’ epic from head to toe.

The crime aspect is unremarkable because the crimes themselves are so ordinary. This is kind of the point of the early plot, as it’s the mundane nature of their lives that pushes these moderate criminals to a place they can’t handle, which itself is one of the oldest stories in the playbook. The two lead characters are defined by their charm over the other characters, and their self destruction, but they aren’t particularly memorable, loveable, hate worthy, or even amusing. The acting is plenty dramatic, and relatively natural, but is again almost entirely undistinguishable. Ruffalo and Wahlberg (who co-wrote the script) sleepwalk through roles they can afford to sleepwalk through, Peet’s character is unforgivably clichéd, but she does her best, while only Hawke steps above the role to deliver something at least remotely memorable.

The story unfolds in such a haphazard manner it’s hard to tell what events are throw-aways, and which are actually indelible to the greater narrative. Then we get to the end and realize there was no ‘greater narrative’. This is a power-point presentation, not a story proper, and it probably worked very well as a book, but as a standalone motion picture it’s frustratingly scattered. Director/actor Brian Goodman makes a pretty unassuming directorial debut, which is both respectful considering the realism required to tell the story, and disappointing considering all the problems with the interchangeable nature of the story. It’s pretty obvious Goodman learned more from working with television directors on Law and Order, CSI and Boomtown, and a lot less from Steven Spielberg, Ted Demme or Neil Jordon.


Video


What Doesn’t Kill You has two looks – dark, naturalistic interiors, and bright, high contrast outdoor shots. The more stylized outdoor scenes are the more impressive from a video quality standpoint, featuring deep and rich blacks, harsh and clean whites, and the occasional primary colour highlight. The indoor shots are more natural, but less sharply rendered thanks to some muddled lighting. Blacks aren’t as rich in these scenes, and sometimes absorb the browns and yellows that make up the majority of the pallet. The transfer has clean edges and respectable details, but is far from the sharpest I’ve seen, and isn’t without some minor noise in the warmer colours, especially the warmer colours laced in shadow.

Audio


What Doesn’t Kill You is all about the naturalism, so don’t look to this Dolby TrueHD track for any aural explosions. The majority of sound comes out of the center channel, which houses the source dialogue and sound effects. The center is perfectly clear and perfectly natural. Things are augmented with a soft and relatively widely spread surround set up that is mostly made up of incidental sound effects and Alex Wurman’s Bostonian influenced score. The score is far from omnipresent in the production, and isn’t very assuming, but it adds some melancholy to the story. The track’s only real shortcoming is a weak LFE channel, which doesn’t punch or throb at any point in the runtime.

Extras


The disc’s small scale extras start with a commentary track featuring writer/director/actor Brian Goodman and writer/actor Donnie Wahlberg. The track’s tone is a little hushed, and a little too serious overall, but there isn’t a lot of blank space, and there’s some stuff to learn. Our commentators are good friends, and share some good stories about the lessons they learned as actors over the years, which are much more interesting than their more ‘meaningful’ readings of the footage. It’s actually quite sad to consider how dull Goodman’s readings of his own life are.

The disc also features 13 non-anamorphic deleted and alternate scenes (15:00), and ‘Makes You Stronger’(19:00), a making of featurette. The scenes are mostly unneeded, but surprisingly more pertinent to the plot than many of the scenes that made the final cut. The making of featurette isn’t super informative concerning the actual production, but the brief recap of the pre-production process is interesting. Since the film was based on Brian Goodman’s real life it would’ve been more impressive to present the making of the film as part of a brief documentary on the true story, perhaps featuring interviews with the real people (other than Goodman, of course).

Overall


If you’re looking for an entertaining run through a criminal self-destruction take another look at Scorsese’s back catalog. If you’re looking for a brutal look at criminal self-destruction take another look at Able Ferrerra’s back catalog. If you’re looking for the middle of the road check out What Doesn’t Kill You. It’s not a particularly memorable film, but it features some good performances, and is well shot.


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