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Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // September 29, 2009
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted September 23, 2009 | E-mail the Author

Frankly, I roll my eyes every time another "hyperlink film" is released. The style that was developed and perfected by Robert Altman was brought to its nadir with the release of the awful Crash (2004), winner of the Oscar for Best Picture. Although the hyperlink originally grew from Altman's journalistic approach and is not without its place as cinematic storytelling continues to evolve, I was suspicious that Shrink (2009) was just another Crash rip-off, of which there have unfortunately been many of late. This, however, turns out to have been largely unfounded. Directed by Jonas Pate from a script by Thomas Moffett, Shrink elicits fine performances and goes beyond cliché and just about enters the airspace of real insight.

Dr. Henry Carter (Kevin Spacey) is a high-profile psychotherapist and author, specializing in the treatment of rich and famous clients. Following his wife's suicide, Carter devolves into a self-medicating lout, favoring marijuana and alcohol, while he becomes increasingly blasé about his patients and his practice. His roster of regulars includes a hyper-phobic super-agent (Dallas Roberts), an alcoholic actor (Robin Williams), and a leading actress and her rock musician husband (Saffron Burrows and Joel Gretsch). His father (Robert Loggia), also a therapist, insists that Henry take on a pro-bono referral, 16-year-old Jemma (Keke Palmer), who is mourning her mother's suicide. Along with Carter's "godbrother-in-law" Jeremy (Mark Webber), these characters' conflicts interact to bring about Carter's acceptance of his lot, and the mutual enlightenment of the supporting characters.

The above is obviously a simplification, but I don't want the movie to sound overly contrived (a la Crash, for example). The way these characters cross paths throughout the film is at least marginally realistic; they don't fall out of the sky into each other's arms. They are all residents of Los Angeles, and they are, with the exception of Jemma, all part of a large set of overlapping social circles. Most importantly, however, is the sense that these characters are individuals, with divergent experiences and opinions. They are not types meant to "stand in" for a race, idea, or class. They are thoughtfully crafted people that we care about for specific reasons.

Although Shrink was promoted as a showcase for Spacey, it isn't edited that way. This gifted but occasionally self-absorbed actor is instead allowed to haunt some shadowy spaces among the large ensemble cast, exploring a man who is at first terribly unlikable. But Carter grows on you as Spacey's skilled portrayal - and Moffett's well-paced script - opens up new sides to the character, giving him life beyond that of the grieving sad-sack.

Among the varied cast, Palmer and Roberts' performances stand out in my mind. Roberts' phobic, neurotic agent is hilarious and maddening. Palmer exhibits talent beyond her years, with a controlled, veiled version of the "troubled teen" type that feels unique and refreshing. Webber's Jeremy also breaks free of the staleness that seems to encumber most versions of the "20-something loser;" his wanna-be screenwriter seems like a cut-out at first, but Jeremy is another example - of which there are many in Shrink - of an actor taking good writing beyond expectations and cliché.

Although worthy of praise in the several respects noted above, Shrink is not without its flaws. There are some groan-worthy moments of trite dialogue and a few utterly predictable situations. Robin Williams' character serves no clear purpose; I almost suspect that it was written expressly for Williams, whose participation would certainly have helped get the film made. Additionally, the fast-tracked romantic relationship between Jeremy and the Roberts character's assistant (Pell James) is pretty unconvincing. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the final few scenes feel like too-brief attempts to tie up all of the narrative threads woven throughout the film. I often feel that narrative closure is overrated, and here the filmmakers have paid for that sense of closure with the film's most contrived moments. Fortunately, they are brief and don't entirely undo the thoughtful characterizations that have led up to them.


The Video
Liongate presents Shrink in a generally pleasing and tight anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. The photography is dark, with the Los Angeles light captured here as an autumnal hazy golden brown. Although black levels on the transfer are not as dense as they could be, the muted color palette seems to be reproduced with fidelity. While the film is presented at 1.78:1, as the packaging states, the non-anamorphic deleted scenes (see The Extras below) appear in a widescreen aspect ratio. I was unable to verify how Shrink was projected in theaters, and am therefore not sure which was the director's intended aspect ratio.

The Sound
Dolby Digital mixes are provided in 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. As a dialogue-driven film, surrounds are limited, but the occasional ambient effect makes for a nice touch. I feel that the music, which includes performances by Jackson Browne, is a bit antiseptic and is at times overly emphasized on the soundtrack. It's a minor complaint in context, but every time the music level rose in the mix, I found myself mildly irritated.

The Extras
The limited but decent extras begin with a full-length audio commentary with director Jonas Pate and producer Braxton Pope, which is a genial if not essential affair. Additional interviews with Pate and Pope (22:20) are next, which are a bit redundant but nevertheless interesting. Deleted scenes (7:16) include an appearance by Griffin Dunne as Carter's editor, and, as noted above, reveal that the film was originally shot in widescreen. Finally, a music video for the song "Here" by Jackson Brown, and the theatrical trailer wrap things up.

Final Thoughts

A good screenplay and a talented ensemble cast take Shrink beyond the level of other recent examples of hyperlink movies. Although it has its faults, Shrink is suffused with a sense of unpredictability that is one of cinema's most valuable commodities. Recommended.

Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.

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