Sundance Channel // R // $26.99 // November 9, 2004
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted November 17, 2004
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In 10 Words or Less
A journey into the heart of a man's darkness

The Movie
It's the rare film that has a character that speaks for everyone in the audience, but Rick certainly does. As Rick (Bill Pullman) berates Michelle (Sandra Oh, "Arli$$"), getting her name and ethnicity wrong during a job interview, she becomes an instant recipient of the viewer's sympathy. But when he takes his abuse a step further, Michelle unleashes a furious, but measured condemnation of her tormentor, cursing his existence. By saying what everyone would like to say to an arrogant businessman, she becomes the hero, and sets the film's plot in motion.

Rick, a collaboration between Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler and veteran editor-turned-director Curtiss Clayton (Gus Van Sant's editor on To Die For), is alternately depressing and comic, following a widowed man with no soul, Rick, and his job-dominated life. While he focuses on pleasing Duke, a boss half his age (Aaron Stanford, X2), and being "The Man" at the office, his stunningly-beautiful daughter Eve (Agnes Bruckner, Blue Car) is growing up alone, whiling away her time having cybersex as "Vixxxen." When an old classmate (creepy Dylan Baker, Happiness) offers him a way to achieve his goals quickly (and illegally), Rick has to decide how low he can go.

The film's plot follows that of Verdi's opera, "Rigoletto," making small, subtle nods to the source material (the main character's name is Rick O'Lette. Get it?) While one need not have a subscription at the Met to follow the movie, if you know the opera, the film has an additional layer of subtext that's very entertaining. Like many of Shakespeare's best plays, "Rigoletto" is a story about lust and mistaken identity, and the price to pay for bad karma, and the movie follows that tale nearly to the letter.

Pullman is sufficiently disgusting in his role as the ultimate corporate lackey who takes out his frustration on anyone beneath him, but betrays his lack of self-confidence by screaming like a woman when surprised. While he's definitely the star of the show, he's outshined in terms of heinousness by Stanford, in a role that's at least a 90-degree change from his role as Pyro in X2. A scheming womanizer who wouldn't have been out of place in "In the Company of Men," he is the epitome of business scum, even attempting to seduce Eve, the only main character that's not entirely horrifying. Even she's not completely innocent of being manipulative, as her Internet indiscretions show.

There are some funny moments in the movie, but they are subtle and ironic notes that make you smile, not laugh. They are mere respites from the darkness, not the hallmarks of dark comedy. In the end, it's a depressing movie with some interesting performances, made with a true eye for style. Rick takes a bit of effort to watch, but should be seen as an experiment in dark adaptation.

An independent release in every way, this DVD isn't the most comprehensive package. Encased in a keepcase is a single disc featuring a widescreen transfer of the film, with a 5.1 soundtrack and a small selection of bonus features. The menus are simple static widescreen screens, with a nice-looking scene-selection section. There are no subtitles or audio options. A two-sided insert lists other Sundance releases.

The Quality
Rick is a very dark film, in terms of both content and visuals, showing influence by German silent films. The DVD does a very good job of presenting the shadowy look of the widescreen transfer, without devolving into the kind of muddy presentation that these films can suffer from. The colors used are an important part of the look of Rick and they look great here. The daylight scenes are similarly impressive. This is a movie made my visual artists, and the DVD gets that fact across well.

The audio, presented in 5.1 Dolby Surround, is good, but not extremely active. There are some effects that stood out, and the music mix is good, so there's nothing to complain about. At the same time, it wasn't something to rave about.

The Extras
A behind-the-scenes featurette clocks in at 10 minutes, broken up into five pieces, which can be watched separately, or through a "Play All" option. Interviews are included with the director, writer and Pullman, all of which give a decent amount of insight into the making of the film. The information about the choice of music in regards to the original opera was particularly interesting, as it was something that stood out to me while watching the film.

In addition to a well-designed photo gallery and a set of PDF production notes (accessible only through a DVD-Rom drive), there are several promotional extras, including the movie's theatrical and video trailers, and eight Sundance trailers, including Scotland, PA, The Other Side of the Bed, Die Mommie Die!, Seeing Other People, The Tesseract, Tanner on Tanner, Soho Square and Wilbur. The two trailers for Rick hardly capture the feel of the movie, which is likely a good thing if you want to draw people into watching it.

The Bottom Line
As a dark portrait of people lacking in morals, this movie is not for everyone, but if you're a fan of character studies, "Rigoletto," Bill Pullman, or the dark world of Lemony Snicket this is an interesting way to spend 100 minutes. The story could move a bit quicker, but overall, it's quite well made. The DVD presentation is light in comparison to other Sundance DVDs and I can't imagine anyone watching this darkly comedic film more than once, so you should be covered by a rental.

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