Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
In Theaters
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
Horror DVDs
The M.O.D. Squad
Art House
HD Talk
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info



Olive Films // R // September 22, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author
When Clifford Spab (Stephen Dorff) walks into a Fun Stop near his house with his best friend Joe (Jack Noseworthy), all he has on his mind is a six-pack, but his spur-of-the-moment shopping trip turns into a national news story when a terrorist group known as The Split Image holds Cliff, Joe, and three other people hostage inside the convenience store's back room for 36 days, an ordeal that results in the death of everyone except Cliff and another hostage, Wendy (Reese Witherspoon). Following a brief recovery in the hospital, Cliff emerges into a world that has been watching him on television for nearly a month, thanks to the videotapes the terrorists insisted news networks play each evening in exchange for keeping the hostages alive. He's a national celebrity, not least of the reasons being his repeated comment, now a motto for a disaffected generation: "so fucking what?"

S.F.W. is an odd little movie, one about surviving a traumatic experience, and the way the media covers and conveys lessons and ideas from coverage of these situations. Although the movie is not always effective, it's always thoughtful and unique, and features an impressive leading performance by Stephen Dorff, who effectively explores the emotional conflict of a 19-year-old who doesn't care much about anything and how he deals with not only having experienced a life-threatening situation, but also the realization that his attitude has perceived meaning for people.

Writer/director Jefery Levy (with Danny Rubin serving as co-writer) structures the film so that we only see one of Cliff's videos at the beginning of the movie, and the film begins with Cliff's release from the hospital. Instead of basking in his celebrity, Cliff enjoys listening to a metal CD and wrecking his room. On TV, Wendy does the talk show circuit, and Cliff considers contacting her, but he hasn't yet gotten comfortable in the real world, where people recognize him on street corners and a crowd at the video store gathers to watch his videos. Although a number of memorable characters come and go, including Joe's sister Monica (Joey Lauren Adams, giving an excellent performance) and Cliff's other friend Morrow Streeter (Jake Busey), the film rests on Dorff's shoulders, and he's up to the task, switching ably back and forth between the affable, devil-may-care attitude that made him famous and the more contemplative, guilty person who emerged from the convenience store. To onlookers, Cliff's attitude seems like a rebuke to the terrorists who held him captive, but it was more a shield of armor, a method for him to stay sane in a terrible situation. Cliff may have believed that it would continue to work on the outside, a way of convincing himself that what happened wasn't a big deal, but the people who hang on his every word make it hard for him to believe it.

The main problem with the movie is Levy's structure, which is effective in some moments but ultimately hobbles the film. Cliff's ambivalence upon being rescued would be more effective if the viewer had more insight into the abuse he suffered, but Levy delays many of these moments in order to pull them back like revelations. A key moment involves the terrorists agreeing to let a hostage go, and Cliff's reaction to their offer. It's a detail that's crucial to Cliff's emotional and psychological state, but Levy holds onto it for nearly half the film. A few snippets of selective voice-over are also used to fill in the gaps, which feels like a patch on the film's unconventional narrative. Finally, there's a sense that fleshing out Wendy a little more to go with Cliff would give their solidarity with one another a bit more resonance.

At times, the movie's message about the media can come off as slightly vague. It's clear that Cliff rejects his own nihilistic motto, and the media is attached to it like a leech, but Levy helps close the thread with an unexpected climax that underscores their thirst for whatever the public latches onto. (Special menton must also be made of John Roarke, who plays a number of fake media personalities based on people like Phil Donahue and Larry King.) The resulting film may not be entirely consistent, but it taps into something authentic about the lonely nature of grief and unexpected celebrity. It's also a surprisingly optimistic movie, one that winks at the emptiness of any media message, without looking down on those who would turn to the media to find one.

The Blu-ray
Olive Films offers S.F.W. with stylish new artwork that does a nice job of retaining the "video" aspect of the film while also bringing the design into the 21st century. The single-disc release comes in a boxy Infiniti Blu-ray case, and there is a postcard insert that will get the responder a copy of Olive's printed home video catalog.

The Video and Audio
Having just seen the deeply underwhelming transfer MGM provided Olive for The Mod Squad, watching S.F.W. is like night and day, with this disc's 1.85:1 1080p AVC presentation often exhibiting a vivid, crisp clarity befitting a 2015 production. In particular, daytime scenes in bright or natural lighting have a stunning realism, especially with regard to skintone. The image has an impressive amount of depth, and the image has no trouble handling the tiniest bits of stubble on Dorff's face. It's worth noting that large chunks of the film are VHS-quality footage from the hostage situation, which are naturally lower quality, and dark scenes can look a tad noisy, with flecks of white intruding on the image's pleasing appearance, but these scenes are pretty brief. Sound is a strong DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack that has plenty to work with, namely the surreal flashbacks that Cliff has to the hostage situation, which feature warping of dialogue and most of the movie's limited action. Most of the film, however, is Cliff speaking, and Dorff's dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly. As with most Olive releases, sadly, there are no subtitles or captions.

The Extras
None, other than an original theatrical trailer.

S.F.W. isn't quite a lost gem, but it is a compelling little film, featuring some excellent performances and a unique story. A little more time in the editing room might've been enough to elevate the film to "minor classic" status, but even as it stands, it's worthy of a recommendation.

Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.
Buy from







E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Popular Reviews

Sponsored Links
Sponsored Links