Jack Nicholson can make a convincing case for being one of the greatest actors of all time. He’s had his share of memorable moments in movies, with quoted lines etched in our brains. It took a while for me to get “You can’t handle the truth!” out of my head. He has also turned in outstanding performances in lesser known movies that have shown his range and dramatic ability. Alternate viewing recommendations to see Jack in action include Hoffa and The Pledge, among a variety of others….In About Schmidt, the follow-up effort by Alexander Payne (Election), Jack strips away the sunglasses, the eyebrow and the devilish grin, puts on 20 pounds, and gives us a performance that some have labeled as career defining.
Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) has recently retired from his job at Woodman of the World Insurance, in Omaha, Nebraska. While he has put his time and energy into the job, is it of no significance. Warren stops by the office shortly after retiring, to perhaps answer any questions his replacement may have, and he has none. His place in the world almost reflects this insignificance, as he is unable to complete a sentence around his wife Helen (June Squibb, Far From Heaven), and their marriage has emasculated him to the point where he finds himself sitting down in order to urinate. In order to pass the time in retirement, he decides to donate money to a “Save the Children”-type organization, and becomes the foster parent of a 6-year Tanzanian boy named Ndugu. He does have a daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis, Hearts in Atlantis) who is living in Denver, about to be married to Randall (Dermot Mulroney, Point of No Return), a waterbed salesman with a mullet, who also happens to be a fan of pyramid schemes. After Helen dies suddenly from a blood clot, Warren (with the help of a recently purchased Winnebago) heads out to Denver in an attempt to stop Jeannie from making a mistake that she may regret. Not only do we see Warren’s adventures in getting to Denver, but he meets Randall’s mother Roberta (Kathy Bates, Misery), where the events pick up at a hilarious pace.
The unpredictable payoff happens at the very end of the film, and works so effectively and with great emotional impact, that afterward it makes you reflect on the clever touch employed by Payne, who was also responsible for the screenplay, along with collaborator Jim Taylor. Bates and Nicholson turned in Oscar nominated performances to highlight already quality resumes, but the film will ultimately be remember for the outstanding performance by Nicholson. After Election, I was curious to see the type of film that Payne would come up with, and it is a great one, worth repeated viewings.
Payne’s films have had the tendency to give you the impression that you’re eating spaghetti under the florescent lamps of high school. Things are pretty dull and subdued, and About Schmidt is shot against a lot of gray scenery. Having said that, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is outstanding, presenting Payne’s vision with solid blacks and no apparent flaws.
The audio is available in English 2.0 Stereo Surround, 5.1 Digital Surround, and DTS. As much of a DTS junkie as I may be, I think its inclusion here is a bit much, as there is very little here for the rear speakers to do, even for a dialogue driven film. Considering Payne’s commentary track in Election, it would have made sense (as well as made some fellow Dorks happy) to drop the DTS track in favor of a Payne commentary.
Special Features9 deleted scenes come with the film, along with a text introduction by Payne. The scenes are pretty disposable, there is one where Warren is caught shoplifting just after Helen’s death which helped to signify just how far he’d fallen, that I would have liked to see in the final cut. There’s also a tribute to Nicholson’s Five Easy Pieces which Payne also likens to a statement to what’s been lost since that time. There are 5 short films on the Woodmen tower in Omaha, which started as the introduction to the movie, but with an abundance of footage, use of the editing machine was provided to make short films with the tower featured prominently. The feature is nice, but it’s fairly redundant, and a challenge to hang in there for the duration (over 10 minutes). The film’s trailer, as well as trailers for I Am Sam and Unconditional Love complete the features.
The star of this disc is the film itself, and it’s an outstanding piece of cinema. Despite the lack of a Director Commentary, the great transfer will give you the best possible means to watch this great film that serves as a great addition to your library.