Haven (2004)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Anthony Mackie, Bill Paxton, Zoe Saldana
Extras: Featurette, Trailers

haven: n 2: a place of safety 3: a place offering favorable opportunities or conditions

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

Safety is the one thing that everyone desires in Frank E. Flowers' "Haven, " a multi-character mosaic set amidst the criminal doings on a Caribbean island. The island's lush atmosphere and serene beaches offer glimpses of paradise, but they mask an unforgiving environment where violence is the prevailing solution. Given the current popularity of films exploring the interconnectivity of seemingly disconnected people, it should be no surprise that 20th Century Fox decided to take this movie off their shelves, where it apparently sat for the past three years, and give it a proper DVD release. It should also come as no surprise that it was co-produced by Bob Yari, one of the producers of the similarly themed, Oscar-winning "Crash."

The movie begins rather innocuously with a young man and woman swimming at the beach. He asks where her family is, and she assures him that he is safe. Cut to America, where wealthy businessman Carl Ridley (Bill Paxton) finds himself trailed by the FBI for underhanded dealings. He flees to a resort on the Cayman Islands with his teenage daughter Pippa (Agnes Bruckner), who quickly becomes involved with a young ruffian (Victor Rasuk) with troubles of his own. We soon find out that the young couple from the opening scene are Shy (Orlando Bloom), the son of a murdered British fisherman, and Andrea (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of Shy's rich employer. Their illicit romance becomes the central issue around which the rest of the subplots revolve, as her overprotective brother (Anthony Mackie) riles up his family into believing that Shy is a rapist, and Pippa plunges herself into the surrounding drugged up community.

The events of this film unfold in nonlinear fashion, jumping back and forth between past and present. In only his second feature, Frank E. Flowers reveals an assuredness with the material that is impressive under the circumstances. He does not maintain control of his script through to the end, where it starts to become very convoluted, but I would say "Haven" stands up well beside a number of similar films by more prominent directors. Flowers injects the film with a vibrant visual scheme that is arresting, if not exactly subtle. Fast motion, jump cuts, and highly saturated colors dominate the screen, often to good effect. What the film lacks in dramatic depth it makes up for in its visuals, which keep viewer attention even when the story drags.

The ensemble acting is uniformly good, with Anthony Mackie and Bill Paxton earning the highest honors. Orlando Bloom is given a good opportunity to show off his range with a role that allows him to trade in his sword for a gun and does not require him to waltz around in heavy costume. Authentic and realistic Caribbean accents help build up the atmosphere and create a very specific context for the events onscreen.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released the film in both 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan versions on one double-sided disc. The picture quality is excellent, showcasing the unique visual style perfectly. Black levels are rich and very deep, while the colors are faithfully rendered and brilliantly saturated. Contrast is sharp, bringing out a crisp image with no artifacts to be seen. Flowers' vision is certainly done justice in this transfer.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also brings out the fine quality of the movie's eclectic soundtrack. Dialogue is clear and well-balanced with the music and sound effects. Even the minutest sounds are given clear presentation in the back channels. It is not a thundering track, but there is enough ambience to create a nice surround experience. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are available.

Unfortunately, it seems that Fox was not confident enough in the film to provide any good extras. The only thing they offer is a brief "Making Of" featurette, but at just under four minutes, it is more of a promo than a behind-the-scenes look. A theatrical trailer for "Haven" and promos for two other Fox DVDs make for pretty slim pickings. Although this is not a high-profile release, this film is interesting enough to warrant better treatment.

With "Haven," Frank E. Flowers opens up an interesting discussion about the security these characters seek and the obstacles they set up for themselves through their own folly. For such a green filmmaker, he has shown considerable talent and a knack for visual splendor. For those who enjoy multi-character dramas, don't let this one fall under the radar. Fox has not given it the presentation that it deserves, but after three years we should be thankful that it was released at all. Even though it falls short on some criteria, it is definitely a film to get you thinking.