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Good movies by talented independent filmmakers are sprouting like mushrooms these days, and too many of them go nowhere because the industry's distribution apparatus is geared toward centralized control. Too many productions have no chance at a theatrical launch, the cost of which almost equals the price of making a film; every year fewer features are pushed into a theatrical pipeline that fills thousands of screens with the same show. The result is that the former distribution ghetto "Direct to video" is now a place where plenty of good entertainment can be found.
The Canadian The Entitled is an ambitious suspense thriller filmed on a modest budget. Underemployed deliveryman Paul Dynan (Keven Zegers of Frozen and Transamerica) lives with his sick mother and her house is about to be repossessed. He decides to kidnap the spoiled-rich obnoxious college kids Nick, Hailey and Jeff (Dustin Milligan, Laura Vandervoort & John Bregar) with the aid of a pair of disaffected and unpredictable malcontents, Jenna and Dean (Tatiana Maslany & Devon Bostick). Paul commences his crime just as the three victims are on their way to a mountain cabin retreat to join their fathers. Receiving ransom demands of a million dollars apiece, stock speculators Richard Nader, Clifford Jones and Bob Vincent (Ray Liotta, Stephen McHattie & Victor Garber) fight among themselves, withholding information from each other just as they might on a stock trading deal. Not far away, Paul seems to have everything in hand until his partners prove to be uncontrollably violent, and the kidnapping becomes a kidnapping-murder.
William Morrissey's screenplay is calculated for maximum marketability. The chilly winter locations -- vacation homes in dark woods -- are an attractive backdrop. The script sets up at least one showcase acting scene for each character yet holds together as a credible kidnapping story. Clever crosscutting takes our mind off the fact that the three veteran actors Liotta, McHattie and Garber appear only in one location. Director Aaron Woodley blocks the dramatic conflicts like a good stage play, providing balance for the more exploitative scenes of violent jeopardy.
The aptly named The Entitled differs from other kidnap sagas in the motivations of its criminal trio. If made thirty years ago it might be considered a subversive statement about class warfare. The early scenes setting up the clash of those Entitled and those "Deprived" are wisely made brief. Paul's ambition to land a decent job is rebuffed by a company executive in such a way that he knows he should stop trying. He's apparently qualified, but some unstated factor bars his way -- perhaps he doesn't look successful enough, or he lacks the fast-track employment history, but we get the feeling that he simply lacks the all-important social connections. Paul's father is off on some low-paying job, his sick mother is skipping her essential medicine because she's broke and their house is about to be repossessed. Thus Paul feels compelled to undertake a perilous kidnapping caper. Our objections are further softened by Paul's choice of targets. Although Nick is slightly less obnoxious, Hailey and Jeff are thoroughly hateful rich kids that amuse themselves by flaunting their entitled status. Paul's partners Jenna and Dean seethe with anger at the world and would just as soon kill their captives and forget the money. Paul's perfect crime requires that he keep control over these trigger-happy aides long enough to collect the three ransoms. Only a fool would expect Jenna and Dean to not ruin everything later on, when they have their money in hand. Paul has thought that problem out to its logical end as well.
Meanwhile, the pressure applied to the three rich fathers reveals their brotherhood of material success to be a scam. Ray Liotta's Richard must admit that he's gone bust and can't pay the ransom. He tricks Victor Garber's Bob into paying his share, convinced that if he tells the truth Bob will find an excuse not to bail him out. This necessitates that Stephen McHattie's Clifford join Richard in withholding the full facts of the kidnapping from Bob. It's not long before the trio is ready to exchange blows. Under enough stress, these men openly state that their winning lifestyle is based on a bunch of cheap scams. The Old Boy's Club is made of straw: is the screenwriter trying to justify their victimization?
A large chunk of The Entitled deals with a bloody confrontation and a suspenseful pursuit through the dark woods. Rather than relying on its action scenes, it adds some fairly adroit plot complications. Paul impresses us by having a backup plan for almost everything in the caper that goes wrong. The frustrated fathers waiting by the phone aren't stupid either: realizing that the kidnappers were aware of the father-offspring weekend, Bob figures that the setup might be an inside job. But where's the connection?
Nobody coasts through this picture. Liotta, McHattie and Garber come through with good performances, and the kids are also convincing. Laura Vandervoort plays Hailey as a nasty piece of work. When running for her life she reflexively falls back into an abusive, "It's all your fault" mode that has an unexpected humanizing effect. It's not all her fault, as she didn't spoil herself. Tatiana Maslany and Devon Bostick succeed at making their borderline psycho characters into something more than plot necessities. Goth girl Jenna relishes the idea of striking back at the rich kids, while budding nihilist madman Dean has only two settings, "off" and "chaos". Paul takes advantage of their need for self- validation. Strangely enough, the 'criminal genius' Paul is less interesting than the colorful characters he draws into his scheme to soak the rich.
Suspenseful and intelligent, The Entitled fulfills the demands of a crime suspense movie, and then some. It sells good dramatics and a clever perfect-crime scheme much more plausible than expected, and comes through with a number of memorable characterizations. It appears to be a video premiere item, on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Blu-ray of The Entitled looks very handsome in HD. David Greene's camerawork is flexible in all situations. The nighttime flight through the woods is particularly convincing -- we can see what's going on but it's dark and dangerous out there.
The extras are an acceptable Behind the Scenes featurette and an alternate ending, which consists of a couple of extra shots. It only makes sense that this changed ending be included ... or does the standard cut imply the same conclusion?
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Entitled Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.