Cast: Thomas Hayden Church, Elizabeth Shue
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Trailer
Great thriller movies are tough to make. The debut film by a director is also tough to make. Combine the two and it is easy to see why Jake Goldberger (who also wrote the screenplay) seemingly had the cards stacked against him before his 2009 release 'Don McKay' got off the ground. It's not to say that success isn't possible with this combination. The Coen Brothers did it with 'Blood Simple', as did Quentin Tarantino ('Reservoir Dogs'), Christopher Nolan ('Following') and Darren Aronofsky ('Pi'). Goldberger knew that filling those shoes would take a lot of hard work and some luck along the way. The first break came when the casting gods smiled on 'Don McKay'. Thomas Hayden Church signed on early in the lead role and even served as Executive Producer of the film. Elizabeth Shue was plucked out of obscurity to bring a familiar face to the character Sonny. Throw in M. Emmet Walsh with Keith David and 'Don McKay' is primed and ready for one of those magical debuts that will be talked about for years to come.
Don McKay is a depressed janitor with a weathered face that seems to have a thousand stories behind it. One day during a shift he gets a letter from Sonny, a love from yesteryear who no longer wants to be one of Don's memories. She requests that they reunite in their hometown, a place that Don hasn't been to for twenty-five years. It turns out that Sonny has a mysterious disease and wants to spend her remaining days with her former love. It is here that the story begins to tip its hat and tell viewers that something isn't right. Don seems to have a few secrets of his own that make him uncomfortable in his hometown. Sonny, while charming and seemingly innocent, can't seem to get the right combination of smoke and mirrors for the illusion she may/may not be putting together. Dr. Lance Pryce (played wonderfully by John Rebhorn) seems to want/have more than the typical doctor-patient relationship with Sonny. The more characters are introduced, the more questions pop up. 'Don McKay' soon sets itself up to support the theory that small towns can have the biggest drama.
The problem with this magical debut is it doesn't come together to capture the attention of those who watch it. While the cast does their job bringing life to the characters, the script doesn't set the story up well enough for most viewers to stick with the film. For all of the questions that are posed in the beginning of the film, the answers really don't serve as much of a payoff. It's like one person wrote the beginning of the film, another person wrote the end, and then the two combined stories to try and connect their ideas. Once the various questions in the plot are answered, a whole new set of questions arise. What is the motivation to do that? Who is really telling the truth? How was (fill in the blank) not noticed sooner? The influence of 'Blood Simple' is obvious, but 'Don McKay' doesn't have the hooks or pacing that made the Coen Brothers film such a classic thriller.
Though the film itself may not impress you, the 'Don McKay' blu-ray just may. The 1.78:1 aspect ratio is showcased with a solid 1080p presentation. There are a lot of 'country home' scenes that detail the knickknacks and patterned wallpaper in the house. Flesh tones are accurate as Elizabeth Shue's ageless beauty compliments stern-faced loner Thomas Hayden Church. With all of the detail, the 'Don McKay' still has a soft, film-like feel to it. The video won't garner 'Avatar' type attention, but it is a very nice transfer.
The English DTS-Master Audio 5.1 certainly has a little life to it. The dialogue heavy movie does a great job balancing sound in the front field. Rear speakers are used for music and subtle background noises. When the music kicks in, the sound certainly brings you into Don's odd little world. 'Don McKay' doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, so the audio performs as well as one would expect from this type of film.
Oddly enough, the screen specific commentary with Writer/Director Jake Goldberger and Producer Jim Young is the highlight of the disc. There is a healthy blend of friendly banter, humor, war stories and behind-the-scenes information that is more interesting than the film itself. Who would've guessed that a 'Don McKay' commentary would be so entertaining? The development process information is a must listen for aspiring filmmakers who are one slammed door away from giving up on their dreams. While Goldberger and Young certainly had an amazing amount of luck on their side, one can't help but be impressed with how things came together for them. This commentary is worth a listen by all – regardless of your feeling about the film. There are also about five minutes of standard definition deleted scenes that do very little to enhance the movie itself. The last special feature is a 1080p trailer for 'Don McKay'
'Don McKay' calls itself a thriller; however, it seems to ride an uneven line between light drama and black comedy, never really committing to either or providing the suspense necessary to succeed as a thriller. Thomas Hayden Church and Elizabeth Shue are just two of the cast members who are great in their respective roles, but have found their characters in a poor man's 'Blood Simple'. The blu-ray provides the audio and video presentation one would expect – solid, but not reference material. The highlight is indeed the commentary. Future filmmakers should listen to find out just how much a little luck can help get a project off of the ground. Hopefully, 'Don McKay' will be a stepping stone to greater works by Jake Goldberger, but for now his filmography is worth a rental at best.