Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 12/28/06 21:11:38

"Is Denis Leary a delusional mental patient, or are his delusions real?"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Denis Leary is Bill, who's either a screw-up or a rich blues guitarist (or maybe both). He wakes up in a hospital room, where psychiatric counselor Ann (Hope Davis) tries to get him to remember details of the day he was found near his totalled truck in a quarry.

There are supporting roles and flashback scenes, but it's essentially an actors' workshop between Leary and Davis. This is one of Denis' I-can-do-drama roles, and he can do drama. There's hardly a whisper of his ranting stage persona in the confused, adrift, rambling Bill. He uses his hostile energy for moments of frustration, and he gives Bill a quick and sardonic wit, but much of his work here is desperately sad and touching. Bill thinks he's been unfrozen out of a cryogenic state in order to be executed by the government. If he's wrong, that's depressing. If he's right, that's depressing.

Not a barrel of laughs, this movie. You wanna see funny Denis, look up either of his concert films directed by his late friend Ted Demme. As it is, Leary's acerbic, no-bullshit demeanor cancels out a lot of what might've been mawkish and manipulative in Bruce McIntosh's script. It's the kind of tiny movie -- and ambiguous role -- Kevin Spacey used to do before winning two Oscars and apparently entering his "We Are the World" phase.

Hope Davis hasn't been given much of interest to do since becoming an indie actress to watch a few years ago. This movie might've been part of a turnaround for her, if more people saw it. She needs a juicy, uncompromising role in a big movie before she breaks through. But here, as the businesslike therapist who struggles with her own growing affection for Bill, Davis does a lot with microscopic inflections and shifts in emotion. It's a useful actor's gambit -- to play a person who holds herself in but occasionally shows you flashes of what's being held in.

You do have to give Final the benefit of the doubt for, I'd say, the first half hour or so. Director Campbell Scott goes in for lots of poetic, moody images before settling into the sterility of Bill's surroundings. Most of the film is unavoidably visually dull, but Scott does what he can, mainly by focusing on the two leads. I did get a bit of deja-vu from the film as it progressed; anyone familiar with the books of Robert Cormier -- particularly I Am the Cheese -- will feel right at home with the paranoid, depressive tone here. It does very often feel like a Cormier book for adults, or at the very least a Twilight Zone episode played at a crawl.

I liked it for what it was -- a small indie film headlining two fine actors. It's not something I can imagine watching in a theater -- it loses nothing on the small screen (and loses nothing by not being letterboxed; the DVD is framed at 1.85, but Scott doesn't exactly make full use of the rectangle), and you may want to get up a couple of times to check your email or otherwise recharge your batteries.

So: worth it for Leary fans who want to see him stretch a bit, or Davis fans who know she can do better than "Hearts in Atlantis." But: not a happy-time Saturday-night rental.

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