Isaac Knott (Nick Stahl) is a reporter for a New York public radio station. He's been confined to a wheelchair since childhood, paralyzed after surviving a car crash that killed his parents. "Once in a while, wheeling in and out of the curb of people, I'd catch someone looking at me, and I'd see something else in their eye: jealousy." His producer assigns him a story after the station gets an anonymous tip from a caller, who told them about a man who walked into a local hospital and offered a doctor $250,000 to amputate a healthy leg.
Soon, Isaac is introduced to the "pretender" and "wannabe" culture, meeting a group of people with the desire to be paraplegics or amputees. He also comes face to face with his source: Fiona (Very Farmiga), a mysterious woman on a mission: "This is all about understanding you. And then I'll tell you whatever you want...quid pro quo. I want your life, as a paraplegic, in detail." Seems Fiona is a unique case, taking Isaac back to her apartment and strapping on vintage leg braces: "I don't want to be paralyzed...I already am paralyzed. I'm just trapped in a walking person's body."
Friendly Isaac ("I'm easy," he says. "I like anybody who likes me") is instantly fascinated with his new subject, who competes for his attention along with two other muses: a pair of wingtip spectator shoes, and his ex-girlfriend Raine (Aimee Mullins), a fellow PWD (person with disability) who dumped him for an AB (able bodied) person.
The more left unsaid, the better; one of the film's many beauties is its mystique. You're never quite sure what's in store: Brooks has fashioned a story that is part film noir, part love story, part horror anthology tale and part dream-like fantasy, channeling some of that David Lynch/David Cronenberg flair (the film shares similar themes to the latter's Crash from 1996, and also forces slight comparisons to efforts like Boxing Helena and Freaks).
I smiled to myself when Fiona says "we both know how this is going to end"--because I truly had no idea. Well, for the most part: My one (large) criticism with the movie is that one of the twists is instantly obvious, a line of dialogue standing out like a neon sign. It isn't necessary, and spoils a development that could have had more impact if handled more deftly. But ultimately, you realize that isn't what the movie is about anyway, so it's somewhat forgivable.
Quid Pro Quo is dark and winding, but has a center of light with Isaac, played with compassion and palpable hope by Stahl. It's nice to see Isaac played as a man happy with his everyday life, refusing to look at himself as disadvantaged, while Fiona has more layers to her than initially apparent. Farmiga continues to cement her status as one of the strongest actors in the business, emoting from every ounce of her being (those eyes!) as the damaged yet determined femme fatale (when Fiona says "What's normal? Normal's a setting on a washing machine," you get the sense it also applies to Farmiga's philosophy for picking roles). Both talents have been under the A-list radar in Hollywood, but both are frequently brilliant. Despite the film's subject matter, it is ultimately a simple story that hinges on these two roles, and both Stahl and Farmiga make it work perfectly.
While it doesn't end up being what you probably expect, Quid Pro Quo leaves you rethinking its intent--and offers up a surprising amount of food for thought on issues of identity, love, loss and guilt. At just 75 minutes, it probably could have done a lot more, and many fascinating issues (including the dynamic between Isaac and his ex, as well as a deeper exploration of the B.I.I.D. condition) are left unexplored. But as it stands, it's still a beautiful story with gorgeous production design and cinematography, including some effective scenes that take us back to Isaac's accident.
My recommendation is to pop in Quid Pro Quo without any expectations or preconceived ideas...just follow its emotionally powerful path. Those of you seeking a thrilling mystery will probably be disappointed; despite hinting at those intentions, the film becomes an entirely different creature, one that is still captivating.
Also included are seven deleted scenes (10:02, in non-anamorphic widescreen). The most interesting clips include more of the subplot between Raine, her current boyfriend Scott (Dylan Bruno) and Isaac, including some scenes that would have been powerful inclusions--especially the last one, which appears to be an alternate final scene. Storyboards, a tulip montage (featuring the beautiful images seen in Isaac's back story) and trailers round out the package.