Rat (2000)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Pete Postlethwaite, Imelda Staunton, Frank Kelly, David Wilmot
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Trailer, Talent Files, Production Notes

In the course of reviewing DVDs it’s a real delight to stumble upon a hidden gem every now and again and ’Rat’ is one such treasure of a film. A dark comedy with a very Irish bent, ’Rat’ is full of humor and wonderfully endearing performances — oh, and rats.

Hubert Flynn (Pete Postlethwaite) stumbles home from the pub late one night and, while being berated by his fiery wife Conchita (Imelda Staunton), suddenly turns into a white rat. Being a small town on the outskirts of Dublin, Kimmage doesn’t attract much media attention and the only one who seems to take note of this odd event is freelance writer Phelim Spratt (David Wilmot) who sees a bestselling book in his future. Ingratiating himself with the family, Phelim (whom everyone calls Felix) moves into Hubert’s old room and begins work on his story.

Meanwhile, the family is unsure what to do with dear old dad. Sweet daughter Marietta (Kerry Condon) still loves him no matter what but son Pius (Andrew Lovern) — who, by the way, is destined for the priesthood — is only too eager to toss his da into the furnace. Conchita, as is her wont, swings wildly from wanting Hubert the rat dead to wanting him tenderly cared for. Fortunately Uncle Matt (Frank Kelly) — the Cliff Clavin of Dublin — is there to really confuse matters with his endless litany of facts about rat habits.

’Rat’ is something of a subtle comedy in which only a handful of scenes are laugh-out-loud hilarious — although the exorcism scene featuring a fireplace poker, a fridge, a rat, and the Christmas duck surely ranks as one of the zaniest scenes I’ve seen in some time. The real delight comes from the universally fine performances and the deft interplay between the characters. Everyone plays things straight which makes the many memorable spoken lines that much more humorous.

’Rat’ is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and offers a very pleasing picture. The overall image is just a tad soft but that’s about the only complaint with the transfer. Colors are accurate and stable if not a bit drab given the usual inclement Irish weather. Black levels are solid as well and the transfer is free of any nicks, blemishes, or film grain.

Audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. While the track is very dialogue driven and anchored to the front speakers, the surrounds are used for the occasional atmospheric effects as well as for the oddly amusing musical selections. Dynamic range is quite good with a bit of deep bass kicking in here and there. English and French subtitles are offered and are likely to be accessed as a few of the more heavily accented lines fly by too fast for the ear to catch.

In the extras department the disc boasts an entertaining commentary track by director Steve Barron and star Imelda Staunton, a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a 2-minute look at the animal actors, production notes, talent files, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

’Rat’ is one unique movie that at its heart is the story of family love conquering all. If this had been filmed in the usual Hollywood manner it would likely be completely forgettable. Filmed in Dublin, featuring an Irish and British cast, directed by an Irishman, and written by another, ’Rat’ is full of energy and spirit. Universal’s new DVD offers up a fine technical presentation as well as a handful of bonus features. Fans of offbeat British-style dark comedies should find this particular ’Rat’ to their liking. And any rodent who can down a pint of Guinness can’t be all bad.