Paramount // PG-13 // $29.99 // March 18, 2003
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 12, 2003
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The Movie:

"Abandon" is an interesting movie that, while flawed in few regards, still has some positives. A film that seemed to go in-and-out of theaters, "Abandon" is a somewhat intelligent, moody thriller that focuses on teenagers, but seems structured and toned for adults. Katie Holmes, finally getting a chance to star in a film, plays Catherine Burke, a student at an Ivy League school. As the film opens, we find that Catherine is in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year, facing finals, papers and a job opportunity looming on the horizon.

We also find that Catherine has lost her boyfriend, Embry Larkin (Charlie Hunnam, very funny on the cancelled sitcom "Undeclared", which was canned as it was just getting on a roll) a couple of years prior. Wealthy and a bit of a mystery, Embry simply vanished one day. Although she's managed to get past the loss, one day she finds that Wade Handler (Benjamin Bratt), a detective and a recovering alcoholic, has been assigned to investigate the case and see if there's any clues that remain hidden.

While partying too much one night, Catherine spots Embry staring at her on the other side of the crowd. While she doubts herself due to her state, she continues to spot him on campus, watching her. Although she's irritated by Handler's questioning at first, she finds herself falling for him as time passes.

And time passes in this film very...very slowly. "Abandon" is a strange case; I liked the performances, I liked the actors and I liked the characters, but I almost wished that they were in a different movie. Maybe it's simply that "Abandon" is too cold and moody for its own good. It proceeds in a manner that is ultra-serious - and that's an understatement. While the structure isn't confusing, the mixture of Catherine's visions of Embry and her flashbacks make for a bit of a mess.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan has certainly lined up a terrific set of talent on both sides of the camera for his directorial debut here. Katie Holmes is excellent as Catherine, suggesting layers and complexity to the character that the script doesn't provide. I liked her steely, professional appearance in the interview scenes and how that dropped around her friends. Zooey Deschanel, who I always love, adds humor in a film that desperately needs it. Benjamin Bratt isn't bad as Handler, while supporting performances by Gabrielle Union ("Bring it On"), Melanie Lynsky ("Coyote Ugly") and director/actor Tony Goldwyn are solid.

The film certainly looks and sounds great, too. Popular cinematographer Matthew Libatique ("Requiem for a Dream")'s effective cinematography here adds atmosphere and mood, while composer Clint Mansell ("Requiem for a Dream", as well)'s eerie, fascinating score works well for the picture, too. And yet, director Gaghan never seems to be able to bring all these elements together. Gaghan's screenplay provides enjoyable dialogue and respectable amounts of character depth, but...nothing much happens. The romance between the Bratt and Holmes characters never really feels convincing and the remainder is a mix between Catherine chatting with friends and the occasional sight of Embry. The film seems like it's more concerned with its twist ending than anything that came before it.

"Abandon" is technically great, with superb cinematography and a great score. The performances are solid, too. It's too bad that Gaghan's screenplay really never provides a very compelling story.


VIDEO: "Abandon" is presented by Paramount Home Video in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a separate pan & scan version is also available. You're always missing picture information with pan & scan, but I'd guess the pan & scan version of this film is severely cropped.) The presentation is of fine quality, although there are some occasional issues with the image quality. Sharpness and detail are quite pleasing, as the picture appeared consistently crisp and well-defined, with no apparent softness.

While a few little concerns are scattered throughout, the presentation's problems are really nothing that will cause much distraction. The most noticable concern is edge enhancement, which is visible in mild amounts in a couple of scenes. The print also looked not quite perfect; while most of the film appeared pristine, some minor specks were visible in a couple of scenes. No compression artifacts were spotted, though.

The film's bold color palette looked terrific. Colors appeared vivid and well-saturated, with no smearing. Black level looked solid, too. Flesh tones looked accurate and natural. Not quite perfect, but an awfully nice representation of Libatique's rich cinematography.

SOUND: "Abandon" is presented by Paramount in Dolby Digital 5.1. The presentation is not particularly aggressive, but there's a few scenes here and there (such as a party scene w/music & talking) where the surrounds kick in rather noticably. Clint Mansell's terrific, haunting score is beautifully crisp and clear on the soundtrack, but really is only offered by the front speakers, with little or no reinforcement by the surrounds. Dialogue remained crisp and natural, too. Not much in the way of bass, but that's expected, given the material.


Commentary: The DVD's main supplement is a commentary from director/writer Stephen Gaghan and cinematographer Matthew Libatique. Gaghan is honest and enthusiastic in his discussion of what it was like to step into the director's chair for the first time. Gaghan does discuss what he likes about the film, but he questions several of his choices, both directorial and in terms of writing. When Gaghan and Libatique aren't discussing the story and offering tales from the set, the commentary does turn very technical, with some interesting tidbits about the look of the film.

Also: A 22-minute "making of" documentary, a handful of deleted/extended scenes (w/optional commentary from director Stephen Gaghan), and trailers for "Abandon" and "Four Feathers". The trailer for "Abandon" is an interesting watch, simply because it's rather fascinating to see the film marketed as such a different picture than it is.

Final Thoughts: "Abandon" has a great look and feel, and I also liked the performances. The story simply doesn't come together in a way that's consistently involving or energetic. Paramount's DVD is very nice, with fine audio/video quality and a handful of solid supplements. Recommended for fans of the film, but those who haven't seen it should only consider a low-expectations rental.

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