What Doesn't Kill You [Blu-ray] [Import]
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Brian (Mark Ruffalo) and Paulie (Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke, Best Actor In a Supporting Role for Training Day, 2001) are two lifelong friends who grew up like brothers on the gritty streets of south Boston. They started early as street thugs living by the criminal code, doing petty crimes and misdemeanors that grew increasingly more serious. Eventually they fall under the sway of organized crime boss Pat Kelly (Brian Goodman). As Brian becomes increasingly lost in a haze of drugs and 'jobs,' he consistently disappoints his loyal wife (Amanda Peet) and their two sons. Torn between the desire to be a good husband and the lure of easy money, Brian must make the hardest choice of his life.
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These guys and their extended friends and families come across as completely believable and what is more important is that these are not the Mr Big gangsters. They are really the foot soldiers for the higher ups and only get the crumbs from the table. They see the greed of those who they work for whilst they struggle to meet bills etc. Ok so perhaps they should just get a job or have studied harder at school. Well we don’t all get the same chance in life and so walk a mile in their shoes etc before being the first to cast a stone (sorry mixed metaphors there).
This is all done in such a way that you end up caring for all the players and I was hooked until the end. This is based on true stories of the men involved and makes it more poignant for it. There are scenes of violence, drug taking and the usual language that you would expect from hoodlums. Great performances all round and once you get past the worry of lack of originality you will find a rather good film waiting to get out.
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"This is me, this is what I do." Brian (Mark Ruffalo) to his wife - played by Amanda Peet.
He is a Boston criminal. He doesn't know any better and neither does his friend Paulie (Ethan Hawke). Both have been doing jobs for their boss since they were kids.
Things go quite well at first. Brian makes a living. Nothing special but he and his family are doing all right. Then drugs get in the way and he loses control. A job goes wrong and both Brian and Paulie end up in jail.
There Brian finally realizes what he was throwing away all this time. A loving wife who still holds on to him, two great kids, love.
To me the best moment in the film is a scene after Brian is back home from prison and he talks to his eldest son on the porch. He knows he can't let them down again. If he does he will lose everything he ever had.
So he makes a choice, takes the last chance he's got. To be there for those who love him and not to deceive them again. He is strong and together they will make it.
As I said before, great acting by the entire cast, Mark, Ethan, Amanda, but also the kids, the crime boss (Brian Goodman - also first time director).
I loved Mark in Zodiac, Amanda in Syriana and Ethan in Training Day but here they are even better.
Most of the story takes place during the winter and although it's often sunny they toned down the colors adding a little to the weight of the drama.
The Blu-ray is marvelous. Crisp when needed (not overdone thank God) with the winter sun, yet at the same time tolerating a certain softness which adds to the intimacy and warmth.
As the viewer you are able to observe these boys evolve from small time crime, to full-blown, risk-taking, men, with little remorse for social misconduct and an aversion toward authority figures. Interestingly, Antisocial Personality Disorders only need to have 3, or more, of 7 traits, and these characters portrayed them all---to perfection. You begin to see neither of them as having any socially redeeming value. Could redemption be possible with such a prognosis?
This film is brilliantly acted, and a textbook portrayal of budding sociopathy and the destruction it creates. If you have interest in dysfunctional personality dynamics, you will really enjoy it. However, some may not, because this is not a high-action film, or one of those bloody, chop-off-fingers types, with nausea inducing, gratuitous violence. Yes, there are some violent scenes, but this film is more of a character study of Brian and Paulie. One examining consequences of choices, and whether or not redemption can be found---if it's even sought, when there is a rusty moral compass.
Mark Ruffalo is outstanding in this role. The hospital scene, alone, when he is demanding more 'pain medication,' and his subsequent behaviors afterward are textbook, drug-seeking, antisocial. I can vouch for this, first hand, as I have been on the receiving end of such tirades, as a health care professional.
Although left with a message of hope for one of the primary characters, the problem I had with this film, was the inability to have much empathy for any of them. Even for Ruffalo's wife, who functioned as an enabler; a wounded personality, herself. But, I don't think we were meant to have empathy---perhaps just a better understanding of how some criminals and addicts amongst us are created, with a little window into their mind.
Brian and Paulie's story did touch a nerve for me, that we need more intervention, better schools and community outreach in neighborhoods such as these---that we as a society keep dropping the ball. When every child isn't given more opportunities to roll out from under that apple tree, we ALL suffer the negative consequences.
In the course of a crime, the pair get arrested and land in jail, serving time for 5 years - a time frame that Brian spends regretting his past behavior and determines to change his life for the better. When Brian gets out of prison ahead of Paulie, he attempts to build back his life with his family, but keeps coming up against a hard wall. When Paulie gets out, he tries to get Brian involved in their old criminal activities again, and Brian faces the conundrum - does he go back to the familiar life of crime which `pays' or does he keep struggling in altering his life, crime-free?
The story may not be highly original, but the movie is well-directed, and the two leads are compelling in their performances. Mark Ruffalo especially, truly flexes his acting chops here, portraying a tortured soul who tries to redeem his past behavior with a new approach to life, but faces one obstacle after another. His acting is wholly credible and I'd say his role carried most of this movie. Ethan Hawke's character does not seem to be focused on as much here, but his Paulie is no less compelling, portraying a different character to that of Brian - Paulie lives only for himself, and is neither repentant nor apologetic about his criminal past.
Brian Goodman makes an impressive directorial debut here and "What Doesn't Kill You" rings true from beginning till the end. Not your typical shoot `em up movie, but more of a slow-paced yet compelling drama that will strike a chord in discerning viewers.
The story centers on two childhood friends in South Boston and their 20+ year span of semi-organized crime, drugs and family life. Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo both give outstanding performances with all of their usual nuances, and even a few new ones; Hawke's voice and demeanor has changed significantly of late. The trailer shows most of the action in the film, but just expect a well crafted dialogue and bleak visuals story about crime, addiction and loss.
The outer channels get used very little except for two or three gun scenes, and the picture clarity was all about seeing Boston in winter. There were actually no colors in the entire film except for one scene in the jail (bright yellow fencing). This would be more of a display test for your whites, blacks and silver hues. The supplements contain some standard deleted scenes, a typical "everyone is awesome" behind the scenes and a commentary with also first-time writer Donnie Wahlberg (has a small supporting role).
Not a technically outstanding Blu, but a worthy owner for fans of the actors, even for the Amanda Peet followers, she showed the best I have seen in her since she started.
The flavor of South Boston and prison and petty crimes becoming major crimes is well paced by writer/director/actor Brian Goodman. But this rambling story is ultimately boring - except for the pleasure of watching Mark Ruffalo inhabit this loser of a character. An OK movie, not a great one. Grady Harp, May 09