Soundman creates a very interesting situation for the viewer to get involved in. Pére does a great job as Igby, bringing him to life as a sort of modern Everyman of working life. He's is likable yet flawed; on the one hand, I wanted everything to work out for him, yet on the other hand I was appalled by how badly he was screwing things up. It's an ambivalence that grows deeper as the movie develops, and by the end it leaves the viewer with a situation that can't be tidily categorized as win or lose, good or bad, but only in shades of gray. Without spoiling anything, I can assure you that Soundman has a definitely non-Hollywood plot, one that has you genuinely unsure what is going to happen. Yet it's not a "twist" ending; it proceeds naturally from the events of the film, while at the same time the story could have developed in a variety of alternative ways.
The supporting cast is also strong; it's easy to believe that these people have lives and stories of their own apart from their relationship with Igby; the conclusion of Igby's story doesn't necessarily wrap up any loose ends in their lives. Along with developing the characters, Soundman evokes a vivid image of the city of Los Angeles, with its frantic, non-stop traffic, its street people, its noise and ceaseless activity. In this city are the people who have the power and connections to make a difference in Igby's life, if he can only connect up with them... but his efforts to do so are as maddening as negotiating a maze of dead-end streets. The dark side of city life is presented more and more as the story develops, paralleling Igby's mental state as well as being the logical setting for each scene.
All in all, Soundman is very polished and well put together; the cinematography, for instance, is imaginative and includes interesting shots that convey the characters' mental and emotional states very effectively by, for instance, focusing on a single object like a vase falling to the ground and smashing. Director Steven Ho also handles the tone of the film skillfully, balancing a generally serious tone with a wry sense of humor. We may smile at Igby in his predicaments, but it's in empathy for him and for the situation; it highlights, rather than defuses, the effectiveness of the dramatic elements in the story.
Soundman is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen at its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is almost entirely free of noise, and I didn't notice much by way of edge enhancement. The color palette includes a lot of browns and grays, but brighter colors like blue skies, Igby's golden car, and occasional brighter clothing colors are nicely vivid, and look accurate; skin tones also look natural. Contrast is generally satisfactory throughout the film, with daylight scenes looking the best, and darker scenes challenging the contrast somewhat; in indoor scenes we do get a touch of grain occasionally. The main fault of the transfer is that it's not anamorphically enhanced, which would have improved the overall image quality quite a bit.
In comparing the video quality of the trailer to that of the movie itself, it looks like Vanguard has taken the commendable step of cleaning up the print before transferring it to DVD. The comparison shows that the transfer has an improvement in both overall color fidelity and contrast. I hope that future Vanguard releases will follow this trend.
Soundman is presented in Dolby 2.0, which does a satisfactory job of conveying the soundtrack. The track could have benefited from having surround available, but in the 2.0 format it's still pleasing to hear. Sound quality as a whole is good, with dialogue clear and natural-sounding. The diegetic music is handled well (there are several violin pieces played by Juliet), though the volume of the regular background music is not as balanced with the rest of the soundtrack as I'd like.
The Soundman DVD is respectable in the special features department, with a full audio commentary track from the director along with a trailer for the film. The description on the back of the DVD case is misleading, though: it claims to feature a "director's intro" (possibly meaning the commentary track) and outtakes, which are in fact not included on the disc.
Straightforward menu navigation isn't the DVD's high point. Skipping the FBI warning takes you to "Chapter 1," which is the trailer; this is disconcerting since it starts out the same way as the actual movie, so it might be a moment before you realize that what you're watching is a preview. Hitting "menu" then takes you to the special features menu, from which you can backtrack to the main menu and finally play the movie.
The beauty of an independent film is that it has the liberty to be different, and Soundman is a perfect example of a well-crafted independent movie: it's entertaining and engaging, while taking the viewer on a trip that goes in some unexpected directions. I enjoyed it quite a bit and certainly recommend it.