Friday, August 7, 2009

A Perfect Getaway

[Warning: Reading this review, in part or in full, could damage your viewing experience of A Perfect Getaway. If you plan on ever seeing the movie, then don't read this before watching it. Come back after you see it - even if it takes years. I won't mind.]

My experience in this movie reminded me of the one I had in 2007's Awake. I had no expectations going in and was pleasantly surprised to find a genuinely decent thriller. A Perfect Getaway is similar: the trailers lead you to believe this movie falls into the regular genre stereotypes, but the film delivers more in both story and style.

A Perfect Getaway
Writer/Director: David Twohy
Starring: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant

As far as I can gather, a "genre movie" is one that accepts and embraces its place in the overall realm of cinema; most of the time, these are smaller movies (not big budget blockbusters) with ensemble casts that appreciate the type of work they are doing and generally don't take the content too seriously. All that can be said about A Perfect Getaway, which is essentially a "cabin in the woods" thriller relocated into the camps and trails of Hawaii. When recently married couple Cliff and Cydney (Zahn and Jovovich) realize there have been a series of murders nearby, they become wary of the couple they met on the trail (Tim Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez) and the hippie hitchhikers with attitude (future "Thor" Chris Hemsworth and Grindhouse graduate Marley Shelton) they encountered early in the movie.

Praise must be given (by me, anyway) to Timothy Olyphant, who has consistently been delivering great performances in small roles like this for years. I'm hoping he gets a big break soon (other than the dismal-sounding lead role in Hitman and its potential sequels), because he has definitely proven himself to be an actor to keep an eye on. He never immediately comes to mind when thinking about my favorite actors because he's not high-profile enough: like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he's earning my respect by picking up these lesser-seen movies and doing some great work along the way. I thought Olyphant's character Nick was the best part of A Perfect Getaway - an ex-special forces soldier who spends most of the film recounting unbelievable war stories and attempting to convince screenwriter Cliff to write a feature about him. Nick's girlfriend constantly praises his manliness (much deserved, as evidenced by the killing of a large goat with a self-strung bow and arrow), and his badass persona refuses to be ignored when held against the other characters with which he spends the majority of his time.

SPOILER ALERT (in case the announcement at the top didn't tip you off)

I didn't think the rest of the cast was anything special. I haven't seen Milla Jovovich act in anything since I first saw The 5th Element when I was 13 or something, so I can't really compare her performance to anything recent. I thought she was a little underwhelming as the recently married Cydney, but as we come to find out at the end (dun dun DUN) she's not who she says she is. This means, of course, that we must give her a pass on everything that she's done up to this point in the movie, because she's been acting as a secondary character - we don't really get to see much of the REAL version of her: just a few lines from the helicopter at the end. That wasn't enough to judge if she handled the duality of the character with any skill. The revelation that Steve Zahn is the killer (nice call, Branz) caught me off guard - I honestly didn't see it coming until about two thirds of the way through the film. Zahn clearly chose this script because it was fun for him to play into the audience's expectations for most of the movie (Zahn as the funny protagonist) and then pull a 180 on them with the psycho killer reversal for the finale. He handled the material well, and like all great genre actors, didn't take his performance too seriously; he got a fantastically wild look in his eye from the moment we find out he's the killer to his sniped death.

Writer/director David Twohy (Pitch Black, Chronicles of Riddick) turned in a very respectable script, ratcheting up the tension as the couples travel deeper into isolation. Making Cliff a screenwriter (and featuring conversations about screenwriting) helped to walk the audience through the conventions of screenwriting without treating us like idiots - we know that there's a three act structure to movies but it's nice to be reminded, especially when we know the twist is coming soon. As Nick instructs Cliff to "remember the details," audience members lean forward in their seats, consuming the details for themselves and archiving them so as to try to discover the killer before the protagonists. We're constantly waiting for a couple to slip up and reveal their true intentions, and when we realize it is OUR couple, the one we've been following this whole time and have put our trust into, we experience a "gotcha" moment but take it with no hard feelings. They've done a good enough job to get us hooked, and now we have to know how it ends.

The cinematography was expectedly breathtaking since filming was done in Puerto Rico and Hawaii, and the sweeping helicopter shots over the jungles were second to none. The rest of the film was also shot very well, always keeping a steady distance from any character as to not subconsciously hint at who the villains may be. The cinematographer didn't rely on excessive closeups or employ any cheap tricks to manipulate the viewers; he simply shot the movie in a neutral manner that utilized the suspense of the plot. There was a nice flourish of editing towards the end of the movie: the flashback sequence hazed in a bluish black and white hue that revealed the origins of our villainous couple and confirmed the love of Nick and Gina was particularly well-constructed, although seemingly out of place since it was inserted right before a gunshot in real time. When that sequence ends, it's as if the movie shifts gears and comes bursting out the other side back into present time and doesn't let up until the credits roll. The use of split screen was very effective (not to mention stylish) on the foot chase through the jungle.

A Perfect Getaway isn't perfect by any means - it's not particularly original in its concept or execution, nor are the performances given memorable (other than Olyphant's, in my opinion). But Twohy understands what we want from a movie like this and plays with those expectations just enough to make this worth watching. I suspect it will soon make its way into the TNT rotation, and that's a fine place for it. Until next time...

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