The art of photography means knowing what to exclude from the frame as much as knowing what to include. We learn this in "November," a smartly assembled psychological thriller about a photographer who has trouble knowing which parts of her life -- her memories, her feelings, her guilt -- to keep and which to eliminate.
She is Sophie (Courteney Cox), an urbane Los Angelino photography-class instructor whose boyfriend, Hugh (James Le Gros), was shot and killed on Nov. 7 during a convenience store robbery. She was outside in the car when it happened and never really saw the killer, so she can't help the police find him. She sees a therapist (Nora Dunn) but continues to be plagued with feelings of remorse and regret.
Then mysterious things begin to occur. A slide of unknown origin shows up in her classroom carousel, depicting what appears to be the convenience store on the very night of the murder. Does someone know more about this than Sophie does?
Cox's dramatic performance is good, if not especially notable, and it suggests talents within her that have so far gone mostly untapped.
Directed by Greg Harrison and written by Benjamin Brand, the film plumbs greater psychological depths than most of its genre while maintaining a tight grip on the viewer's interest. As the events of Nov. 7 play and replay, each time with variations, we are as eager as Sophie is to learn the truth, determine what really happened, and solve the riddle.
It's solid filmmaking, moody and dark and evocative. It's not the stuff classics are made of, but it's certainly what 70 minutes of psycho-drama entertainment are made of.
VIDEO: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) ratio is preserved, and it's a pristine transfer. The film was shot on digital video and it looks fantastic on DVD.
There are French subtitles available, but no English ones. Huh.
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 sound makes excellent use of the movie's odd aural effects.
EXTRAS: There's a nice collection of extras here. Chief among them are two full-length commentaries. One has director Greg Harrison and screenwriter Benjamin Brand, with their focus being how the film changed from page to screen (and how it stayed the same). They praise each other's work a lot, but not to the point of being tedious. They mostly stay on-subject, and film writers in particular may find it enlightening to hear a director and writer talk openly about the process.
The other commentary is Harrison and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber. Fittingly, they center their conversation on the film's "look," including its use of color, which shifts gradually over the course of the movie.
A nine-minute "Conversation with Lew Baldwin" is director Greg Harrison and visual effects supervisor Baldwin discussing how certain effects were achieved, with appropriate on-set footage and clips from the film included. It's a pretty interesting in-depth look at what goes into creating even "simple" visual effects on a low-budget film like this one.
The photo galleries include the usual behind-the-scenes moments, but they also include something unusual: galleries of the photos seen IN the film that are supposed to be the characters' own work.
An alternate opening sequence is included, showing the original opening credits, accompanied by Harrison and Baldwin's commentary on why it was replaced. This is nothing to write home about.
"November" is a good example of a movie that isn't great, yet has nothing particularly wrong with it, either. It's well worth the 70 minutes it takes to watch it, and maybe even a second viewing -- to pick up the details you missed the first time, now that you know what's going on.
(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched the film in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)