Here’s a particularly nasty little black comedy from writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes. The Details is about the consequences of dishonesty and very poor choices. The cast, led by Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks, will certainly draw some interest. Estes took a very big risk by straddling a very fine line between comedy and drama. His characters are almost universally reprehensible, leaving few for audiences to identify with. But spirited performances and thought-provoking moral quandaries make this easily worth a look.
Maguire stars as Dr. Jeff Lang. He and his wife, Nealy (Banks), live in Seattle with their only child. Though their mutual friends, married couple Peter (Ray Liotta) and Rebecca (Kerry Washington), have just thrown them an elaborate ten-year anniversary party, the Langs are mired in unhappiness. With Nealy denying her husband sexual gratification, Jeff has taken to chatting with women on porn sites. Even though his obsession with these women borders on addiction, his big mistake comes when he consults Rebecca privately for advice.
In a moment of weakness for both of them, they have a one-night stand. This sets off a chain of events that unexpectedly intersects with, of all things, Jeff’s home improvement project. He’s having a difficult time with raccoons vandalizing his newly landscaped backyard. Eschewing local building codes, he has contracted to have an extension built on his house. The bizarre neighbor Lila (Laura Linney) is keeping a close eye on every violation sanctioned by the Langs. When her beloved cat is felled by the poisoned tuna Jeff leaves out for the raccoons, she decides to take an active role in the Langs' lives.
While the middle section of The Details sags a bit, with Nealy seemingly disappearing for an unusually long stretch while her husband gets deeper into trouble, once the pieces are in place it becomes quite interesting. Maguire and Banks seem mismatched as a married couple (something that actually ends up working in the film’s favor), but both invest considerably in their roles. Maguire, in particular, works up a frenzied head of steam that the actor has seldom displayed. Liotta is typically excellent in the small but potent role of a deeply flawed man horrified by his wife’s indiscretion. His sermon to Maguire atop a remote bridge is a reminder of why Liotta is such a valuable actor. And Linney, who recently put me to sleep in Hyde Park on Hudson, makes Lila a believably zany busy-body—without ever losing sight of her sympathetic qualities.
Anchor Bay has given The Details an excellent 1080p transfer that looks every bit as good as a recent production should. Shot on 35mm film, there’s a lot of fine detail on display—important for studying the wildly varied emotions etched on these actors' faces. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix goes the extra mile with a surprising amount of immersive effects coming from the rear channels. A rowdy church congregation, for example, really surrounds the viewer with clapping and singing. Most of the film is dialogue-based, but the mix doesn’t miss opportunities to engulf the listener. Music plays well around the spectrum, too.
Strangely, there are precious few supplements included. All we get are an alternate opening and ending. Once you’ve seen the opening, you’ll know exactly where the original ending was going. Without going into spoilers, it’s fair to say the filmmakers made the right decision. These alternate bookends might’ve made the entire film feel too much like an easy punch line. As it is in the final cut, there’s a darker ending that suits the morally bankrupt characters far better.
Sure to spark conversations, The Details is a dark comedy with a few interesting things on its mind. Even if it drags a bit in its second act, this is well above average for direct-to-video fare. The cast (I didn’t even mention Dennis Haysbert as a dialysis patient) gives it their all, making the film worth checking out.