By Chaz Lipp
Halfway through the black comedy The Details, I was convinced I didn’t like it. The characters seemed nearly uniformly unlikable, always making terrible, unscrupulous decisions. But then something happened. This tangled web of relationships, orchestrated by writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes, is a complicated one, and I found myself dying to know how it would all be resolved. Any adventurous viewer willing to take a chance on a new direct-to-video feature (especially if you have a taste for darkly humorous nastiness like Peter Berg’s cult classic Very Bad Things) would do well to check out The Details.
If the promise of watching ethically-challenged characters ruin their lives isn’t quite enough, consider the cast. I’ll just throw out the names, letting them linger for your consideration: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Ray Liotta, Kerry Washington, Dennis Haysbert, and Laura Linney. That’s a lot of talent and luckily Estes gives them each something to sink their teeth into. Maguire and Banks play married couple Jeff and Nealy Lang, celebrating ten years of apparently simply tolerating each other. Theirs has become a sexless, unhappy union, complicated by Jeff’s recent all-consuming obsession with preventing raccoons from destroying their newly sodded lawn.
The lack of intimacy leads Jeff astray, first seeking advice from Peter’s (Liotta) wife, Rebecca (Washington), but ending up becoming something far more personal. Peter learns of the dalliance and wants Jeff to fess up to his own wife as well. After all, is it fair that he and Rebecca’s marriage has been destroyed by infidelity, while Jeff can carry on with his wife Nealy being none the wiser? Liotta mines deep emotional terrain in an outstanding portrayal of a deeply principled man whose sense of justice is far more complex than Jeff’s.
Banks admittedly gets a little shortchanged until all the story threads come together in the third act. Luckily, Laura Linney is given a juicy role as Lila, the cat-loving shut-in who lives next door to the Langs, keeping a close eye on their home improvement plans (which include building an extension on their house that’s deliberately against code). Jeff manages to continue screwing up as he’s drawn into Lila’s life after accidentally poisoning her cat. Linney is sympathetic and oddly likable in a role that could’ve easily devolved into caricature. A shot at personal redemption (at least in Jeff’s eyes) presents itself in the form of sickly Lincoln (Haysbert), a middle school basketball coach.
The fun of The Details is watching director Estes try to keep all the balls in the air in a plot that could’ve easily imploded. To his credit, he mostly does despite a few predictable “twists” and a middle section that becomes a little too lax and meandering. His ensemble cast is more than up to the challenge though. Anyone who likes these actors will almost certainly find something of value here, even if you find yourself hating almost everyone in the film.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds perfect for a lower-budget, dialogue-driven character piece. An ultra-sharp and detailed image is complimented by a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that boasts a surprising amount of surround activity. The Danny Elfman-esque score, by tomandandy (Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn), is well-placed in all channels. Special features are unfortunately limited, but the alternate opening and ending show that Estes and his editor made the right choices for the final cut of this enjoyably twisted tale.