Hey lookee here, in this movie called Off the Black, there are two Oscar nominees and one Oscar winner! So with this pedigree of talent, you’d expect to be a gangbusters piece of dramatic storytelling, right? Well, not exactly.
Written and directed by James Ponsoldt (Junebug and Hurricane), Ray (Nick Nolte, Blue Chips is a high school umpire in his spare time, when he normally works at an auto yard. He makes a controversial call in a game and later that night, some pl…yers of the losing team decide to vandalize his house. He manages to catch one of them, and it turns out to be the pitcher Dave (Trevor Morgan, Mean Creek). To save Dave from the embarrassment of a police incident, he decides to have Dave clean up his mess instead. Things become interesting when Ray asks Dave to act as his son for Ray’s 40th high school reunion.
Ray and Dave both have their own bad family situations. Ray’s father is in a nearby hospital with Alzheimer’s and rarely recognizes him, and Ray lost a nasty divorce with his wife, along with a custody battle for their child. Dave’s father (Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People) is frequently out of touch with him and his daughter, and it’s their similarity that strikes with them both. Oh before I forget, the other Oscar nominee is Sally Kirkland (Anna), who plays Marianne, a friend of Ray’s from the reunion.
The film proves to be interesting, but it only gets interesting midway through the second act, when Dave starts to take to Ray. However it’s the first act that ruins the pacing of the film and takes away from the performances, which are capable. The other disappointing thing about the film is that at its heart it’s surprisingly unoriginal. Ornery old character meets vital younger character, they find a kinship and become friends. There’s even the twist that’s wholly unsurprising too, so in the urge to be “independent”, it covers a lot of time-honored plot devices.
I’m not too sure why this film was shot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, as many of the shots don’t have a lot going on in them. Even still, the picture is fine, there is some edge enhancement in the film, but otherwise there’s nothing glaring.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and for this dialogue driven film, I don’t understand why. It sounds clear when you can hear it, because it’s way way too soft. Run it through your TV speakers and you’ll be OK.
Ponsoldt provides a commentary which is OK, but since he’s the one who’s most intimate with the material, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. The only other real extra of note is a making of look at the film, but it’s really nothing more than a crew member who had a handheld camera on set and filming some of the stuff occasionally. No real information to gleam from this one. There is also a bunch of trailers to round out the package.
The only thing to really watch Off the Black for is the performances, because nothing else on the disc or in the movie really separates itself. And even with Nolte and Hudson, nothing really happens, and Morgan is quietly developing quite the resume on the plus side. Check it out when it airs on IFC, which I’m guessing is the only place you’ll see it and not have to rent it.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Making of Featurette