A little indie with a big cast that got little in the way of a theatrical release last year, "Around the Bend" probably didn't get much of a release due to the fact that it seems like a family drama, yet contains enough language to get it an "R" rating. The picture stars Josh Lucas as Jason, an uptight businessman who lives with his son (Jonah Bobo) and grandfather, Henry (Michael Caine), in Henry's home. As the picture opens, however, Henry is getting up there in years and about to pass away.
Around that time, Turner (Christopher Walken), Jason's father that'd left him when he was a kid years earlier, returns. Although Jason still remains upset with his father for abandoning him, he finds himself stuck with the old man who the group finds that Henry has left instructions for disposing of his ashes that require the group to head across the Southwest together, with stops at (and this might upset some) a bunch of KFC locations, with the group learning more over each chicken dinner.
For those of you reading this and thinking that this sounds like a sap-fest of the most sugary and melodramatic order - you would be right to think it. However, writer/director Jordan Roberts has somehow managed to sidestep all that, largely because the material has a nice, light touch - the characters are well-written (despite being a short flick at 83 minutes, the characters and story feel fully realized) and the actors all give it a good try (young Bobo is surprisingly good against the very accomplished older rest of the cast.) As a result, the emotional moments here feel earned. There's a little quirkiness to the thing too, but it's also kept in check.
At only 83 minutes, the picture is refreshingly brief, telling its story in a straightforward manner and wrapping up quite a bit before it wears out its welcome. Cinematography is also lovely; despite a fairly small budget, this is a very nice looking film visually, with some beautiful locations. I hate to call "Around the Bend" a "nice little movie" because that doesn't quite do it justice, but that's really what it is: a very well-done, good-hearted picture, with some fine performances. I don't think it'll stick with me, but I enjoyed watching it.
VIDEO: "Around the Bend" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally first rate, with little in the way of considerable faults. Sharpness and detail were very good, as the picture appeared consistently bright, crisp and well-defined.
Problems with the presentation were few: I noticed some light shimmering in a couple of scenes, and a couple of scenes showed a trace or two of some pixelation. Aside from those flaws, the picture appeared clean: no marks or specks were spotted on the print used, and colors appeared bright and well-saturated, with no smearing.
SOUND: "Around the Bend" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Warner Brothers. The surrounds aren't used much, aside from some light ambience and musical reinforcement. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue and full-sounding music.
EXTRAS: Writer/director Jordan Roberts offers an audio commentary for the picture. The other main supplement is "It's a Good Day", a nearly hour-long documentary that looks at the making of the movie. Instead of a "promotional" doc, we get a really solid, in-depth look at the making of the picture - a camera watches the cast and crew at work, and is there for some of the meetings. It's a fun, informative documentary - despite the film's rather limited showing at the box office, I'm pleased that something like this was still able to be included on the DVD.
Rounding out the DVD are deleted scenes with optional commentary, the film's theatrical trailer and a soundtrack spot.
Final Thoughts: "Around the Bend" is a very good drama, with solid performances from a superb cast. The DVD edition provides some very informative supplements and superb audio/video. Definitely a recommended rental.