To be straight to the point, Journey to the End of the Night is a much better film than expected. Sure, the cast is superb. However, the convoluted, brash nature of the story sets an excessively exploitative tone at first glance. Once the film starts rolling from its dilapidated, exotic starting gate, the brimming talent of director Eric Eason starts to gradually lift this film above such a claim. Though not a perfect film and still possessing a few plot eccentricities that felt both easy and a bit overzealous for some tastes, Journey to the End of the Night is a surprisingly taut drama benchmarked by fine, natural performances.
Money, sex, and crime plague the urban streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The town seems collapsed upon this epidemic, though also firmly supported by the same vices. Everyone amidst the tortuous, winding streets seems to be running from something. Journey to the End of the Night is a tale firmly laced within the fabric of a dangerous series of events that span a full evening. Entangled within this web of chaos is Paul (Brendan Fraser), son to one of the town's weathered, premiere pimps Sinatra (Scott Glenn). Though both involved within an industry marred by malignance, each man seems bent on fleeing the town to provide a better life for ex-prostitute Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and her child. Both lost in this labyrinth seeking a way out, corruption isn't beside either man - even amidst their own family.
Amazing things happen in this corrupt underbelly, such as inexplicable deaths during sex acts and immense loads of unclaimed narcotics abandoned due to murderous activity. Though already down a path of malignant reprise, this father-son pair manages to get entangled within a scenario that involves everything this anarchistic maze has to offer. Forced to make a split decision regarding a "delivery", Sinatra procures the help of Wemba (Mos Def), a Nigerian dishwasher that so happens to speak the tongue needed by the gentlemen later that evening. What ensues is a tangled web of chaos within the Brazilian night that seems to have no end in plain vision.
Reflective of the gritty cinematography and narrative that's become richly effective with many modern films, Journey to the End of the Night is quite a treat to behold. A blinding palette of reds and yellows pours through the film like cautionary stoplights. While numerous crime films glorify and romanticize the lives of such corrupt people, this film makes certain to convey the grit and brashly unpleasant nature of such an environment. Such a life will not appear desirable, nor should it.
What's truly surprising is the intent, bubbling hunger within each character. Though scraping to make the best of the situation, the denizens of Sao Paulo equally display their fervent, absorbed rage to escape their transitional stay in this network of filth. Both Glenn's Sinatra and Mos Def's Wemba rely heavily on the fusion between each actor's effortlessly gripping charisma and the lost nature of the character. These guys need to escape towards a better life, and this point is well conveyed by their potent demeanor. Alongside many other finely assembled characters, like Moreno's retired woman of the night, these fine performances craft a terrific support structure for this story of tumultuous collapse.
The star of the show, however, is Brendan Fraser. Though never given a part where he can fluidly stretch his dramatic poignancy, he does so in Journey to the End of the Night exceptionally well. Paul wishes for a richer life outside of his father's brothel, not for the malign of others. Fraser's natural innocence and charismatic nature lends this property to Paul, whereas other heavily dramatic actors would have to struggle to present both. He has his moments where his inherently comical nature cannot be swallowed down; however, these points are few and far between. In all, Fraser lends an anarchistic, usurped depth to a lost soul buried underneath his own crazed hunger for departure.
Outstanding performances carry this marginally above-average plot up to the level of a truly enjoyable adrenaline rush. This is a simple scenario convoluted and twisted by the characters' imprudent actions and interrelations. Journey to the End of the Night boasts a solid narrative that only has a few mildly far-fetched contrivances, mostly rooted in the seemingly safe climax. Paired with an excellent tone conveyed through outstanding cinematography, the raging fire burning underneath this film achieves many singing and exciting peaks. Minor quips aside, this film shouldn't be breezed by because of any plot reservations. Brutal and unflinching, Journey to the End of the Night won't change any lives, but it'll provide something to talk about after one elaborate thrill ride.
Journey to the End of the Night is presented from First Look Pictures in a standard keepcase with adequate coverart. The disc replicates the same artwork from the cover.
Presented in a widescreen anamorphic image, Journey to the End of the Night boasts a clear, beautiful transfer. No bones about it, this transfer is grainy and gritty, yet extremely lush with detail. Though the grain seemed excessive at times, this presentation was quite vivid. Black levels wavered sporatically, as well; however, this is a very dark film that, though wavering at times, relishes in the darkness quite well. This dim, colorful palette appeared quite exquisite.
Equally potent is the included Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Amidst nightclub scenes, gunshots, and a typically erratic urban soundtrack, Journey to the End of Night delivered surprisingly well. Dialogue was quite rich and audible without many, if any, instances of inaudible conversation. The rich music thumped quite well, making ample use of a looming bass track. Furthermore, surrounds were quite nicely utilized, from fleeting vehicles to crisp gunshots. Quite an ample audio presentation matches Journey to the End of the Night's video performance.
Rounding out the discs is a single extra: a Making Of Featurette. Typically, with independent, personal projects, the filmmakers and actors pour out ample, interesting praise for the film. This featurette is no exception. Underneath Eric Eason's directorial helm, the actors all seemed to truly appreciate his skill. All of the actors discuss the potency of the script and the personal attachment to such a unique story. This Making of Featurette is heartfelt and moderately deep in its coverage of filming a scene or two.
Fans of aggressive, gritty drama might truly appreciate Journey to the End of the Night. Though not quite up to snuff with the grainy, potent nature of the interconnected, corruption-laden films from Innaurito and Mann, Eric Eason's modest production achieves small flickers of the same quality. This film accomplishes much more than could be assumed at face value. Journey to the End of the Night might suffer a bit on repeat viewings, but it's undoubtedly worth a shot. If the cast and storyline sound compelling, by all means check this strongly Recommended film out.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site