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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » The Contract (HD DVD)
The Contract (HD DVD)
First Look Pictures // R // July 24, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $32.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 28, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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It's always welcome to see the HD DVD format add another studio to its somewhat lean roster, but even with as strong a catalog as First Look Studios boasts, they decided on the tepid thriller The Contract for their freshman high definition outing. Despite its atmospheric visuals and the marquee draw of Morgan Freeman and John Cusack, The Contract is never able to rise above its formulaic, paint-by-numbers screenplay.

Still reeling from the loss of his wife to cancer two years earlier, Ray Keene (John Cusack) hopes a camping trip will bring him at least a little closer to his still-grieving son Chris (Jamie Anderson). The two of 'em are shooting the breeze knee-deep in the forest when Ray spots a couple of figures splashing in the water downstream. After pulling the two men out of the water, one of them -- a U.S. marshall near death -- hands Ray the keys to a set of handcuffs and offers him a pistol. The other man...? Seasoned assassin Frank Cordell (Morgan Freeman). Far removed from any usable cell phone signal, Keene's instincts as a former police officer kick in, commanding Cordell at gunpoint to march to the highway to contact the authorities. Cordell's squad of hired killers are on their trail, though, and feds fearing the worst the day before the President is to roll into the sleepy Pacific Northwestern town have their guns drawn too.

The Contract doesn't take any chances, taking its cues from the dog-eared pages of the Generic Thriller Playbook. It's a competent but thoroughly routine thriller, and the only things distinguishing The Contract from a USA Original Movie circa 1993 are Morgan Freeman, John Cusack, and some reasonably impressive effects work with a helicopter. Even from that few sentences of plot summary, you can probably fill in the rest of the blanks. Struggling with the shear face of a cliff in torrential rain. The obligatory cross-the-rickety-bridge sequence. A bunch of cat-and-mouse chases and gunplay. Father and his estranged son gradually bond. Charming killer with his own code of ethics. Condescending feds trying to keep a dirty little secret buried. Effeminate hiker with an ascot and a red shirt. Impossibly hot love interest who tags along because...because. A little backstabbing, a red herring or two, and a couple of kinda predictable twists. That's your movie.

None of it really works. Director Bruce Beresford has helmed his share of thrillers but is wholly unable to generate any tension or suspense along the way. The actors wasted in the supporting cast are dialed down to a single personality trait each and are bogged down by clunky, witless banter, and the cardboard cut-out leads don't have it any better. The Contract is a pointless, derivative, made-for-basic-cable-grade thriller with a $25 million budget and two tremendously talented but miscast actors on the marquee.

Video: Presented at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and encoded with Microsoft's VC-1 codec, The Contract looks fantastic. The image is sharp and richly detailed, bringing out the best in the fine grains of sand and the lush foliage of its Pacific Northwestern setting. The film's palette appears to be rendered accurately, often leaning towards cold and slightly desaturated hues but taking on more of a golden tint as it goes along. Contrast is consistently strong throughout, and the presence of film grain is tight and unintrusive. A few scattered frames may give nitpickers something to grouse about, such as the slightly unstable grill of a car late in the movie, but there aren't any flaws of note. A solid initial outing for First Look.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio isn't quite as impressive, with its sound design finding little to do with the surround channels other than light ambiance and reinforcing the score. Only a chaotic scene or two with a commandeered helicopter give the rears much of anything to do beyond that. Imaging is much stronger across the front channels, bolstered by some decent activity in the lower frequencies. It's a competent but unremarkable mix, not boasting any particularly noteworthy standout sequences, and a few harsh sounding, overly digital line readings aside, not bogged down by any grating flaws either.

Alternate soundtracks are offered in DTS and Dolby Digital stereo, and subtitles in English and French have also been provided.

Extras: The twenty minute featurette "Inside The Contract" is a bloated electronic press kit, more of a promotional piece than any sort of vaguely insightful look into the making of the film. A small army of producers and the key talent on both sides of the camera recap the characters and the plot while gushing about how wonderful everyone and everything is. There's very little behind the scenes footage, and comments about some of the more intriguing setpieces are glossed over in favor of showing some additional clips from the movie. Not really worth setting aside the time to watch. "Inside The Contract" is the only of the disc's extras to not be presented in high definition.

Also included is a high resolution still gallery, running a little over four minutes in length, along with HD trailers for 10 Items Or Less, Journey to the End of the Night, The Proposition, Relative Strangers, The Dead Girl, The Breed, and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

Exclusive to the HD DVD is First Look's "Inside Look", which throughout the movie offers picture-in-picture video of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews in much the same way as Universal's U-Control and Warner's In-Movie Experiences. As nice as this alternate approach of presenting the disc's extras sounds, it doesn't really work for The Contract since the footage appears to be culled entirely from the twenty minute featurette. I watched the feature throughout the film's first half-hour, and to say that there were maybe three or four minutes of picture-in-picture video is probably being overly generous. In that time, I didn't spot any footage unique to the Inside Look, a good bit of it didn't relate to what was happening on-screen at all, and there was so little material that there didn't seem to be any point in continuing on after that. The concept is appreciated, but it almost seems pointless with so little material on-hand.

Conclusion: The Contract is a solid first effort on HD DVD for First Look, boasting a strong visual presentation and at least some attempt at next-generation interactivity. The Contract is far too routine and forgettable a thriller to recommend as anything more than a rental, though, and even that's pushing it. Rent It.
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