One of the dilemmas that filmmakers often face is whether or not they realize if an artistic, risque script can work as a film. It may seem fine and dandy on paper, but will audiences understand what he or she is trying to accomplish? The film "Disappearances" may contain an intelligent, meaty script, but alas the ideas do not translate well to celluloid.
After a series of tragic incidents, the Bill family end up broke. Out of desperation, Quebec Bill (Kris Kristofferson) and his son Wild Bill (Charlie McDerott) venture off on a journey to smuggle whiskey in order to make dough. On the journey, Wild Bill begins to grow as a person as he sees more of the world and learns more about his father. Along the way, the two encounter everything from monks and Frenchmen to possible ghosts from the past.
"Disappearances" is one of those frustrating ambitious films filled with boatloads of ideas, yet the script is unsure of how to piece them together. What could have been a provoking and poetic father and son tale instead veers off into five separate stories crammed together that could easily fill up five separate films. We have stories about: 1) A whiskey smuggling operation, 2)A coming of age story about Wild Bill, 3) A father/son story about the past and present colliding, 4) A ghost story, 5) A reality vs. imagination tale. As you can imagine, it all adds up to a meandering, overwritten experience. For instance, writer/director Jay Craven's script is so dialogue heavy that he never lets the film (or the actors) breath. There are no quiet scenes or reflection or wordless action. We only get talk, talk, talk over every scene because Craven feelds the need to explain everything. He even beats us over the head with symbolisms of death (owl), the present (car), and even Kris Kristofferson's character (a trout). Let the audiences think for themselves!
For the most part, the acting is stilted. Kris Kristofferson goes through the motions as Quebec Bill. Ironically, the only time he shows any real emotion is when his character plays a violin. Why must musicians always play an instrument in the movies they act in? Charlie McDerott was unbearable as Wild Bill. The kid can't act to save his career. Since Wild Bill is the central part of the film, it's no wonder the story falls apart under the weight of his inexperience and bland line deliveries.
Thankfully, two actors manage to show some professionalism. The always delightful Luis Guzman delivers a few laughs as a drunken, urinating monk. Veteran IndianAmerican actor Gary Farmer helps liven up otherwise sleep inducing scenes. His character's wisdom and thoughtfulness brought real emotion to the movie.
As with most westerns, I'd also like to mention that the cinematography and location shooting was superb. The lush rivers and forests were always a welcome distraction when the characters droned on and on.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) video was irritating to say the least. In many cases, whenever a scene would cut to another the image would flicker or skip quickly. I'm not sure why this problem wasn't fixed before the DVD was released. Perhaps it was an error made by the editor.
The 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track worked well. The audio levels never faded in and out and the dialogue, of which there was A LOT, was always easy to hear.
Sad to say, but the extras surpass the actual film. First up is a commentary track by director Jay Craven. While he tends to repeat dialogue (as the actors say it) and explain simplistic scenes, Jay does offer up an insightful analysis into the characters and themes such as the significance of the owl or Aunt Cordelia's obsession with quoting literature. You can tell Jay has a clear understanding of the material, but he seemed to have trouble conveying his vision on screen perhaps due to budgetary constraints. Speaking of the budget, this leads me to the second extra on the disk which is a 30 minute making of featurette titled "Act of Faith." Scattered throughout the featurette are interviews with the producers, cast and director as they reminisce about the problematic shoot. Some of the facts we learn are that the budget was only a million (to be fair the movie looks a lot more expensive), Kris Kristofferson injured himself, and the ever-changing weather proved troublesome when shooting out on the water. The events that took place behind the scenes could be a movie themselves-one that would certainly be more involving than "Disappearances."
"Disappearances" deserves points for originality and its not so typical story structure, but the final product is an overall pretentious sprawling mess. If you are looking for a thoughtful art house western, seek out Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man," which is a unique and bizarre movie with an all-star cast (Johnny Depp and Billy Bob Thornton to name a few.)
Film and television enthusiast Nick Lyons recently had his first book published titled "Attack of the Sci-Fi Trivia." It is available on Amazon.com.