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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Levity
Levity
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // August 26, 2003
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted August 24, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Writer Ed Solomon has been involved with several high-profile projects in the past, including "Men In Black" and "Charlie's Angels". "Levity" is his directorial debut and he was certainly able to pull together strong talent in front of the camera - Billy Bob Thornton, Morgan Freeman, Kirsten Dunst and others. He also got the kind of behind-the-camera talent whose names, if there were any justice, would appear at the top of the posters of the films they were involved in. They include the brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins (I would watch a movie where Roger Deakins was the cinematographer even if it was filming the phone book, page-by-page, because I know somehow, Roger Deakins would make it visually stunning) and Ridley Scott's ace editor Pietro Scalia.

That's all well-and-good, but did I like the movie? Well, I appreciated aspects of it. There's certainly not a lot of levity in the story of Manuel (Thornton), a convicted murderer who is unexpectedly released after serving 23 years. Once back on the streets, he decides to seek redemption. In this case, it's largely through Adele (Holly Hunter), the sister of the man he killed, although also through preacher Miles (Freeman) and a young woman (Dunst) with a self-destructive streak.

"Levity" doesn't have a great deal of plot, as it shuffles from one scene to the other, with Thornton's character trying to make a difference in the lives of those around him. The film is glacially paced, which really could have been a disaster if Solomon hadn't A: brought in actors who can pull off the meditative tone and B: brought in a crew capable of visualizing the low-key atmosphere. The performances are generally very good. Thornton doesn't do near-comatose as well as he did in the Coen Brothers' "Man Who Wasn't There", but he's still good, and few actors do extreme low-key as well as he does. Hunter's superb, too, although I never quite bought the start of a romance between the lively Hunter (who still looks great) and the nearly sleepwalking Thornton. Freeman's performance is a little strange, but he pulls it off. Dunst is engaging as a club kid on a downward spiral, and gives a somewhat thin character greater depth. It's rather remarkable how she can go from being convincingly gritty to cute and adorable and back within a matter of minutes.

Overall, a fairly large part of why "Levity" works as well as it does is that atmosphere. Mark Oliver Everett's elegant, subdued score is accompanied by marvelous, sublime cinematography by Roger Deakins. The film's imagery is haunting, often beautifully portraying the character's emotions and isolation through masterful compositions. Whenever there was a slow point in the story (and despite good stretches, there are some parts of this film that simply drag, where there's not much going on or more focus would have helped), I was always captivated by the film's images, which often seemed like they could be paintings.

Again, I liked aspects of "Levity". The performances are good and the atmosphere is strongly captured by Deakins and the rest of the crew. However, the movie doesn't always manage to connect emotionally and sections of the picture feel drawn out. If the movie didn't always work for me, I did think this was a promising directorial debut for Solomon, who handles a large cast well.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Levity" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation starts off rather shaky, with some dirt and specks on the print in the opening shots. However, things do clean and clear up from there, with the picture generally appearing crisp and well-defined from there on out.

Aside from the specks and debris at the opening, there weren't too many other issues with the print, aside from a mark or two spotted once or twice during the remainder. Edge enhancement did creep in on a couple of occasions, but never really became much of a concern.

Although warmer colors occasionally enter, the film's color palette is largely subdued and dark. The transfer handles the colors well, with accurate tones and no concerns. Black level appeared solid, as well.

SOUND: "Levity" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but it really seemed like more of a 3.0 soundtrack. Almost entirely dialogue-driven, the surrounds are never really put to any noticable use throughout the picture. Dialogue, music and occasional ambient sounds scattered throughout remained clear, but that's about it - not much to it.

EXTRAS:

Commentary: Writer/director Ed Solomon, editor Pietro Scalia and one of the film's producers sit together for a full-length audio commentary. This is a very informative commentary that keeps focused on production information and offers occasional tidbits and background information, such as the fact that writer/director Ed Solomon's inspiration for the film was tutoring in a youth prison.

Also: A 15-minute "on-set" featurette and trailers for "Levity", "Laurel Canyon" and "Man Without a Past".

Final Thoughts: "Levity" has fine performances, strong visuals and a generally solid tone. However, the script could have been filled out more and while the low-key tone is often well-handled, the film could have been more engaging and gained some needed forward momentum if it was a little more energetic at times. Columbia/Tristar's DVD offers a good presentation and a few solid supplements. Those in the mood for a somber, character-driven drama with some fine performances should check it out as a rental.

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