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Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // July 29, 2008
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 26, 2008 | E-mail the Author
There's no denying it: Extasis is worth seeing for Javier Bardem. A good eight years before his rise to popularity with a high-calibur performance in 2004's Oscar-winning The Sea Inside, he played the role of a seedy con artist in Mariano Barroso's deceit caper. He's asked to be versatile -- gruff and intense for the first half of the film, while transcending into a man of empathy and intrinsic strength later on. Even then his eclectic charisma radiates, giving Extasis' uninventive yet catching story arch the expansiveness it needs to become memorable.

The Film:

With a title meaning "ecstasy" in Spanish, Barroso's film offers a rough analysis on the consuming nature of opportunity's happenstance rhythm. Even from the film's genesis that revolves around a daughter's deceitful plotting to rob her father, Extasis focuses on the uncontrollable nature of greed and dissociative survival. Lola (Silvia Munt), with the more-than-persuasive assistance spewing from Max (Daniel Guzman) and Rober (Javier Bardem), sets up a successful heist plot to rob her father's convenience store of its funds. Once they have tasted victory once, they decide to engage Rober's father in a similar scheme to snatch up the funds they need to leave their town. But when an accident lands Max in jail with an astronomical bail figure sitting atop his head, Rober conjures up another near-impossible scheme to rob the last of the trio's fathers of their wealth.

Extasis tumbles along at a stale rhythm up until this point, which then introduces the film's most complex and pensive plot element: the eyes. When you think of the connection between eyesight and honesty, it usually is in response to the "eyes expose the truth" ideal. Interestingly, Barraso's crafty little drama flips that dynamic on its rear; Rober happens to have identical eyes to Max's, which sparks the idea that Rober could pose as him to swindle Max's long-disassociated father out of his theater-producer's excessive wealth -- initially, to post Max's bond. Mentioning the eyes with such frequency at the start of the second act draws our glances towards Rober's intense gaze, though we're watching for wavering dishonesty masked as an expository element instead of sincere honesty. As Rober soaks into his devious plot deeper -- growing so close to Max's father that he even participates as an actor in one of his productions -- honesty becomes layered atop dishonesty in his desperate glances.

Javier Bardem pushes this dynamic to work with his then newly-budding charisma, which infuses Extasis with its much-needed presence of a shape-shifting con artist twisted up in burdened complication. He gives Rober many more interesting qualities than the character contextually carries, including a wide-eyed anxiety that helps in conveying the character's motives. As we watch him see-saw between the lowly existences of a vagabond in waiting to that of an austere son of a theater director waltzing the lavish halls of a antique-laden penthouse, Bardem's Rober begins to both deconstruct and become accepting of a new life in believably rhythm before our eyes. He's clearly the more magnetic link in his band of thieves, played with serviceable restitution by Daniel Guzman and Silvia Munt. They work better as non-dynamic, singularly-focused balls of energy that pull Rober back to reality instead of acting as truly intriguing entities.

But Extasis' coup de grace comes in the buzzing electricity between Rober and Max's father Daniel, a character given serious gravitas by Cronos' Frederico Luppi. Both characters parry around lie after lie and deceit after deceit, all of which they address openly to each other atop of the underlying identity secret that Rober harbors. Money spent, women slept with, relationships with friends -- it's all a part of what makes Rober, aka "Max", and Daniel's relationship go round. It also is the sole element that gives Extasis a hint of dramatic suspense, something that even the thieving plot mechanism doesn't carry as much of.

It's a shame that Barraso's film bottlenecks into a strainer of a conclusion, one that filters its lively and potentially bleak fibers clean from the resolution. Bardem's efforts hint at a character much deeper than the film allows, which tends to backstab Extasis in strides. Confidence seems to be its main problem, as it almost seems like Barraso grew timid in burrowing deeper into its promise. It's all subjective, but the cleanliness and straightforward release of its ending seem to fold his film onto itself as a muffled bait-and-switch drama. Barden heats the water, but the film's deflated energy quickly turns Extasis' temperature way down as it comes achingly close to a boiling point.

The DVD:

Standard procedure all around, Lions Gate presents their edition of Extasis in a single disc keepcase with some screaming Bardem coverart.

The Video:

Extasis looks pretty good in its 1.85:1 (maybe closer to 1.80:1 or so) anamorphic widescreen image, if a bit flawed. The transfer is fairly clean, though there's the occasional white doghair and speckle in sporadic spots. Most noticeable, however, is a bit of jittering in backdrops -- such as the scene with Rober and pseudo-father Daniel by the rooftop pool. It almost looks like mild iris twitching, though it can almost discernibly be pegged to a wavering transfer. Sharpness and color levels were apt and relatively strong, though the coloring was rather drained of some vibrant shades. Overall, the visual experience was adequate for Extasis.

The Audio:

The Spanish 2.0 Stereo track, however, didn't offer much in the ways of strength. Verbal clarity wasn't terrible, which get a little rough in some of the brusquer scenes of the film. It's a dialogue-driven film, though, so much in the realm of dynamics isn't required. Overall, the track floats along with its serviceable visual transfer. Only optional English subtitles are available.

The Extras:

Nothing much to speak of here outside of a Scene Selection, not even a trailer.


Final Thoughts:

Javier Bardem can add a spark to just about any film he steps into, which can be obviously seen in Extasis as he shifts this mediocre premise into a nicely-orchestrated moral play. All of the characters mold to his talents well, which makes the rhythm of the character film vivacious and interesting up until its backpedal of a conclusion. Lion's Gate has done a decent job with the transfer merits of the film, but decided to leave supplemental material out of the mix. It's a worthwhile film worth a look or two, which when paired with the low-priced purchase point boosts this up to a marginal Recommendation over a rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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