The basic story of Amateur is one you've seen before, but one that should work regardless. Take a man with amnesia who has obviously been a part of foul play (Martin Donovan), add a sexy woman who wants to help him discover his identity (Isabelle Huppert), throw in two thugs who want him dead (Chuck Montgomery and Dave Simonds), top it off with another sexy woman for good measure (Elina Lowensohn) and you've got yourself a winner, right? Not necessarily.
Hal Hartley's offbeat story is simply too offbeat. It works on one level, but fails on many more. The one level on which the film works is the plot. It's very easy to be intrigued by these characters and the circumstances that bring them together. The closer the amnesiac comes to uncovering his past, the more you want him too. You're on that same journey. It's an easy hook, but ultimately, a motion picture must be more than a synopsis for a decent thriller.
Where this film goes wrong is in the details. For example, Huppert's character is totally wrong here. A caring woman, I could understand. But an ex-nun who not only writes explicit adult short fiction, but is also a nymphomaniac who has never had sex? That's too much. It's almost as if Hartley wanted her character to be as bizarre and unique as possible. If the character were developed enough to help audiences understand her needs and desires, then sure, I might have been able to accept her. As it is, forget about it.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment concerning this film is the lack of sexiness. Sex is often discussed, but the characters have no sexual chemistry and there are surprisingly few interactions that could even develop into scenes of a more sexual nature. Why does this weird ex-nun want to help this guy? Why does she want to sleep with him when she has never had intercourse? These questions go unanswered.
The acting and dialog in Amateur reminds me of David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner. It's deadpan. It's quirky. It's not what you'd expect in this type of film. But whereas it not only works but helps Mamet's film, it actually becomes distracting in Amateur. Too often the deadpan delivery of lines makes this film seem poorly acted. At other times, it does lend itself to humor, but more often than not, this comedic touch seems forced. In these instances, it's almost as if the characters are yelling, "Look at me. I'm quirky. I'm unique. Isn't that funny?" The answer is no.
I wanted to like Amateur, but the execution of the story simply didn't work. I never cared for the characters enough to suspend my disbelief and get into the situations unraveling on my TV.
Columbia TriStar presents Amateur in the somewhat odd aspect ratio of 1.55:1. It's definitely not widescreen, but it's not quite full frame either as most viewers will note thin black bars tops and bottoms of their screens.
I was actually surprised by this transfer. It's certainly not perfect, but the image is crisp and detail is better than expected from a low budget film made a decade ago. While the colors aren't particularly bright or vibrant, they do look correct, especially the blacks. Only a few instances of dirt and specks are apparent, but the halo effect does rear its ugly head a few times.
Columbia TriStar presents Amateur in only Dolby Surround. This is a very average track. The voices are a bit too low, but they are not garbled. Being a dialog driven film, I definitely would've liked more crisp, clear dialog. The rears aren't used, but I wasn't expecting them to. The movie rarely has a need for the low end, but when an effect needs a deep sound, this track does not produce.
THE BONUS FEATURES
You get two bonus features on the Amateur DVD: some trailers and a making-of featurette that is really nothing more than interviews with the key cast and crew members. I wouldn't say the interviews shed much light on the film itself, but it's nice to get an honest perspective from the various players.
Static images from the film.
Amateur has all the story points to make a great thriller, but the overly quirky characters and the offbeat nature of the situations don't work. With a mediocre DVD, I say rent it, but only if there aren't many other DVDs to choose from.