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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Lodger
The Lodger
Sony Pictures // R // February 10, 2009
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted March 13, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The shadow of Hitchcock hangs large over "The Lodger." But it put the shadow there itself.

Sure, the film has Hitch in its roots - it's the fifth film adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes' novel; the first version came in 1927, as Hitchcock's first thriller. But writer/director David Ondaatje, making his feature debut, insists on piling on the Hitchcock references throughout his movie, references that aren't nearly as clever as they think they are, references that only serve to remind us that we could be watching a better movie right about now.

The homages - one scene directly quotes from "Blackmail"; the ending hauls in Rebecca Pidgeon to recreate the psychiatrist-explains-it-all finale from "Psycho" - mostly just get in the way, showy little asides from Ondaatje, letting us know which movies he's seen before, and isn't it cool that you've seen them, too?

There's a lot getting in the way in "The Lodger." The entire script is a red herring factory, with Ondaatje confusing misdirection for mystery. There are so many false leads here that sorting them out dilutes the fun of it all, especially since the actual solution - the first of two solutions, that is; both "gotcha!" endings ultimately exist merely to contradict the other, and frustrate us - becomes too arbitrary. Ondaatje gives us too many leads to follow but refuses to make any of them exciting.

The film takes Lowndes' novel, in which suspicions arise over the identity of a Jack the Ripper-type killer, and updates the whole mess to modern day Los Angeles. Detectives Manning (Alfred Molina) and Street (Shane West) are on the trail of a serial killer, one who may be the same killer from several years back. But how could it be, since they caught and executed that killer? Are these copycat crimes, or did Manning nab the wrong man? And why is the killer suddenly recreating the Jack the Ripper murders, down to the last detail?

Study these questions long and hard, for they'll wind up having nothing to do with "The Lodger." Sure, Ondaatje spends most of his screen time on Manning's investigation, as well as his home life (his wife's in the loony bin, and Rachel Leigh Cook pops by a couple times as an estranged daughter), but the script doesn't care much about any of this. It's all smoke and mirrors and padding, padding, padding. The real center of the film is whether or not the mysterious Malcolm (Simon Baker), who just rented the guest house of the Buntings (Hope Davis and Donal Logue), is the killer. Or is he just a victim of circumstance? Could Mr. Bunting, who works odd hours and has odd behavior, be the real killer?

Ondaatje has so much fun teasing us with fake clues and winking misdirection that I wonder if he ever even cared who the real killer was. His ending is so arbitrary, and the events leading up to it so random, that, like the "Clue" movie and its multiple endings, anyone here could wind up being the killer and it wouldn't make a lick of difference. (The screenplay even halfheartedly tries to convince us that Manning himself is a suspect.)

The cast does a fine job at creating a sense of dread, and, at times, so does Ondaatje, who shows a knack for careful set-ups and solid pacing. But then he gets lost in his own middling story, sidetracked by his own gimmickry. (In addition to the Hitchcock homages, we also get gaudy tricks like time-lapse scenes and flickering frames and odd point-of-view shots, none of which do anything but waste time.) What might have played out as a passable whodunit becomes instead a frustrating drag. Hitchcock would not approve.

The DVD

Video & Audio


One of the film's best assets is its slick look, which shines here in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are bold, even when they're muted (which seems an artistic choice, not a transfer flaw), while darks are mainly crisp. A little grain is present, but not enough to distract.

The 5.1 Dolby mix is fairly straightforward, with a nice, deep presentation for the movie's frequent music cues. An insane array of additional languages are included: dubs in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai; optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese, and Korean.

Extras

Nine deleted/alternate scenes (7:46; 1.85:1 flat letterbox) are too short or too inconsequential to make much of a difference, mainly showing off unused (and unnecessary) camera flourishes by the director.

"Beyond the Shadows: Behind the Scenes of The Lodger" (18:31) opens with the ridiculous (perhaps sarcastic?) claim that the movie is highly faithful to the book. The rest combines typical EPK-style interviews with the director's breakdown of key scenes and their thematic importance.

A batch of previews for other Sony titles rounds out the set. A few previews play as the disc loads.

Final Thoughts

What might have been a serviceable serial killer mystery turns into a flashy, overwrought dud. Skip It.
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