Action films would like us to believe that, when wronged, it is our right, our responsibility...no, our duty to put life on hold, and do nothing but dedicate ourselves to vengeance.
What action films don't do, though, is put a wronged man or woman in a situation where they are helpless to react to their circumstances, for fear of greater repercussion. Imagine, if you will, someone whose name is Inigo Montoya. Someone kills his father. Instead of making said person prepare to die, Inigo has to be neighbors with the six fingered man, make him dinner, and babysit his kids. Imagine John Matrix, some random 'Commando,' having a pleasant correspondance with the men who kidnapped his daughter. It just doesn't work that way in the movies. Batman doesn't force Two-Face into Celebrity Rehab with Doctor Drew, and sometimes retribution is just not a possibility.
'Disgrace,' a film adapted from the J.M. Coetzee novel by Anna Maria Monticelli, and directed by her husband, Steve Jacobs, presents a realistic version of the wrongs we inflict upon each other, and shows both sides of that situation.
Professor David Lurie (John Malkovich, not 'Being' himself) isn't a responsible man, despite his position of influence. The divorced Cape Town (that's in South Africa) intellectual and satyr has shamed himself after an illicit relationship with a student (Antoinette Engel) is made public, and he doesn't want to face the repercussions of his actions, not to the family of the girl he took advantage of, or to the school that employed him. He knows he's in the wrong... he just doesn't seem to care.
Road trip time! While it may be cliche for characters to discover themselves, and why they were wrong in their actions by traveling to different lands, it's not a happy revelatory journey for David. Staying with his lesbian daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines), where police do little to no good, and one has to fend for oneself, tragedy strikes, and the predator and his family are made the prey. 'Disgrace' is the story of action and reaction, of love and betrayal, of politics, change, and fear.
Since I am not familiar on the source material for the film, I cannot comment on how well 'Disgrace' captures the mood, intent, and atmosphere of its origin. All I can do is remark on what is present and accounted for, and it is a mixture of peaks and valleys that make the film frustrating to watch at times.
If 'Disgrace' were made in Hollywood, it would have seven branching co-storylines, where characters intersect. It would feel like some giant, coincidental, karmic ritual of self-gratification. In other words, it would be 'Crash.' Instead, we get to focus on four key characters: David, Lucy, Petrus (Eric Ebouaney), a man who lives on Lucy's property, and Melanie, the college girl led astray. They don't intersect, and not everyone meets each other. That isn't to say that they don't affect someone, who in turn is changed towards others, indirectly influencing them, but it at least isn't so cheesy as to have Petrus and Melanie be related (or become romantically entangled).
It's fun to watch Malkovich, a veteran actor who has realized his potential, rather than just flirted with it time and again, take center stage for nearly two hours, as his body language, vocal tones, timing, and expressions bring a character to life. He can make even an intolerable film watchable, and a good film great. I say this, as I couldn't imagine this film without him. I can just picture a washed up yacht flick performance from a variety of actors in his role, and I really could not see anyone delivering the effort, let alone the realism, that Malkovich commands.
In fact, if it weren't for Malkovich's stunning portrayal of a man who must face who he is and was, the film would have been excruciating. Ebouaney does a fine job, and South African actress Haines is stellar, as well, but they could be twice as commanding and believable, and without ol' John, it would have been a wasted effort. The problems with 'Disgrace' don't lie in the gorgeous scenery, or in the pace and plotting of the film. It's all somewhat sound. It's the writing. Dialogue doesn't feel human. At all. Really, even though we're speaking the same language, the characters may as well be Prawns. They don't interact normally. Scenes feel forced, as what would be real reactionary dialogue is removed, and only the heavy hitting lines remain in conversations. It's horribly awkward as no real emotion is conveyed, rather it's barked like in a high school play.
The subject matter found within is incredibly difficult, and may hit home to many, with themes of abuse, rape, violence, power struggle, and racial tension. The entire second half of the film is incredibly tough, as characters try to cope with change that gradually spirals out of control. Not in the "I will find you, and I will kill you" sort of way found in 'Taken,' but in the sense that the "normalcy," if we could call it that, is gone in the lives of David and Lucy, and it is irrecoverable. They're changed people, one as the victim of a horrible misdeed, the other as a man coping with the fact that he is no more innocent than the men who attacked him and his daughter. They try to exist normally again, but cannot, as the weight on their shoulders cannot be lifted, and there is a constant reminder of the situation far too close for comfort.
This film doesn't want to lead you by the hand, and take you on a journey. It wants to show the changing world of South Africa, and the lives they have to live. The choice in occupation David takes after being removed from his position of power can greatly perturb animal loving viewers, while violence against non-humans is also found in the emotional crux of the film, which can add a layer of pain and suffering in viewers with big hearts. With a less hokey and flimsy script, 'Disgrace' could have been something special. If characters talked like humans, rather than people reading off cliffnotes of arguments, the film would have been much more effective. Viewer discretion is greatly advised for those tackling this film blindly, and the faint at heart should not brave this voyage. The pain inflicted can feel mean spirited to the point of sadism, and that's not a good thing.
'Disgrace' is anything but on Blu-ray, with a very solid 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode at 2.35:1.
The transfer is hit or miss, from time to time, and doesn't start off on the strongest foot, as skin tones feel very pale in the Cape Town sequences, and noise can be a tad overwhelming. Edge enhancement is minor, but present throughout, and colors feel off due to the blown out aesthetic. That said, grain levels are not tampered with in any way, colors don't bleed, even in the harshest whites, while detail is strong, with only a small handful of murkier shots, and the picture boasts great depth. Some stylistic choices hamper the appearance of the film, like an extremely focused shot here or there that leaves everything else in a blur, but you can't fault the transfer for that.
The audio for 'Disgrace' comes in just one flavor: a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, with English SDH or Spanish subtitle options.
Much like a run of the mill romantic comedy, there isn't much to work with here. The majority of the mix feels centered and very front heavy, with occasional movement that feels like a forced gimmick. Localization is nice, though not utilized often enough. Rear ambience is present, but it's so quiet it can get slaughtered by dialogue. Bass is absent for all but one scene. There are some nice highs, and solid clarity, but all in all, this is just a passable, somewhat generic, no frills mix, that is neither bad or great.
The supplement package for 'Disgrace' lives up to the film's title.
'Disgrace' will do one of two things. It will either entertain and enrapture you with its character study, deep themes, and beautiful scenery, or it will bore you to tears, and leave you wondering what in the hell you just watched. It's not a bad film by any means, but it just does achieve the effect is set out to create. With solid video and good audio, this release is worth a look, but it's a dangerous blind buy. You may get burned...