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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The List
The List
Fox // PG // June 10, 2008
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted June 24, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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How curious that the moment "The List" gets to its reason for being - a tale of the power of prayer - is the same moment the story goes completely off the rails. Here's a drama that was doing just fine on its own, nothing great, but competently average in its drama, yet once it gets to the point, the whole thing falls apart.

Adapted from the novel by Robert Whitlow, "The List" follows bratty lawyer Renny Jacobsen (Chuck Carrington) as he whines that his ridiculously wealthy father changed his will right before he died, leaving his millions to local charities, tossing the son nothing but a gold coin collection and membership into a secret society formed during the Civil War. It turns out that long ago, a group of Southerners nabbed a bunch of Confederate booty and formed a pact which continues through their male heirs today - a sort of Skull and Bones, Plantation Chapter.

Renny is skeptical (you would be too, considering the society is led by an extra-frowny Malcolm McDowell), although he sure enjoys the perks the club provides, like sports cars and enough cash to quit his law firm. A meet cute lands him the companionship of Jo Johnston (Hillarie Burton), whose father, another society member, also recently died. She's not allowed into the group due to her gender, but she's not sure she likes them anyway. Investigations ensue as our heroes slowly discover the society is up to no good.

So far, it's nothing memorable - Carrington is too unimpressive a leading man, and his character is too whiny to earn our attention - but along the lines of "generic John Grisham-ish story," with conspiracies and lawyers and dangerous mystery, it's just involving enough to keep our attention.

When our heroes begin meeting with wise old ladies eager to share the gospel, we think we've got the movie pegged: it's a drama where the leads will learn the value of good deeds and the unimportance of ill-gotten material gain. Except there's more. The movie's second half slowly ramps up an unexpected supernatural angle, as the society is revealed to be working with some sort of evil magic that controls lives with sinister power, and the only way to break that bond is through the power of prayer.

And that's just plain too much. Had the screenplay (four writers, including Whitlow and director Gary Wheeler, are credited with the adaptation) shown its hands earlier, we might have been more willing to accept the supernatural tone of the film. As it is, this element is a weird, out-of-place turn that changes the tone of the picture, and not for the better. And while a few monologues and a melodramatic finale delivers enough to get Bible study classes discussing key themes, the "power of prayer" bit as seen here comes off more as a cheap story cheat than anything spiritually thrilling. Unless you're willing to view the film as a broad parable, the whole finale includes a (literal) deus ex machina that's just too lazy to be convincing.

Despite passable performances from McDowell and co-stars Pat Hingle and Will Patton (not to mention lovely scenic shots showing off the lush North Carolina setting), "The List" never quite raises itself above its flaws. Ending aside, it's always just a little too melodramatic, a little too hokey, a little too saccharine; director Wheeler is never afraid to overplay the hokey. Fans of faith-based cinema might find themselves interested in the overall message, but those looking for solid drama will be sorely disappointed.

The DVD

Video & Audio


The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer suffers from some slight grain and softness in darker scenes but is otherwise quite fine. Again, the cinematography makes the most of the Southern locales. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is clean and crisp, although the cloying musical score seems to be mixed a little too much on the loud side. (I can't say if that's a flaw of the transfer or the original film itself.) Optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles are provided.

Extras

Wheeler and Burton sit down for an enjoyably breezy, chatty commentary track, with the director providing most of the information.

"The Power of Prayer" (3:06) is a simple EPK-style featurette, offering quickie interviews with cast and crew. It's nothing but a fluff piece. (Presented in 1.33:1 full frame with movie clips properly letterboxed.)

Eleven deleted/alternate scenes (14:36 total) reveal some cut subplots and extra character bits; nothing here is valuable to the story. (1.85:1 flat letterbox with time code.)

A PDF file of a Bible study is included via the disc's DVD-Rom feature.

A set of previews for other Fox titles is also included; a separate set of trailers plays as the disc loads.

Final Thoughts

While most of you will do fine to ignore "The List" altogether, those of you interested in Christian themes might be able to find enough here to kickstart some discussion. To you, I say Rent It.
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