There is an ironclad law of Hollywood moviemaking that says you can't kill off your lead character. Imagine if Luke Skywalker was accidentally crushed by R2-D2 twenty minutes before the climax of 'Star Wars,' and failed to blow up the Death Star -- it probably wouldn't have been a blockbuster, would it? Sure, you can wipe out a supporting character -- or even the top-billed love interest in a romantic weepie (think 'Titanic'). But to actually kill off your movie's hero -- the one audiences have come to identify with and root for? It's a rarity to say the least.
Dylan Jamieson (Michael Angarano from 'Will & Grace') is not your typical movie hero. A high school sophomore with terminal cancer, even the most optimistic doctors give him no chance for recovery. So with the support of his mother Carol (Cynthia Nixon), Dylan is granted a wish from the from the Wish Givers Foundation. Much to the horror of the charity, his wish is to to go to New York and spend one evening with supermodel Nikki Sinclaire (Sunny Mabrey). Nikki, we soon learn, is damaged goods; she's stuck in an abusive relationship, and is bordering on a nervous breakdown. When Nikki and Dylan first meet amid a press barrage, it's an awkwardly choreographed exchange. Dylan, however, remains undeterred in his quest. With his two pals Ricky (Matthew Bush) and Slap (Gideon Glick) in tow -- and much to the dismay of his mother -- he makes the trip to New York to be with Nikki, determined to have this One Last Thing.
We know where 'One Last Thing...' is going from the first frame, but we just can't quite believe it will get there. This is the kind of movie that rarely makes it to the big screen, because quite frankly it is not commercial. We so like Dylan from the beginning, and yet his situation is so crushing that we keep secretly hoping the film will cop out and find some way to save him. As much as critics and moviegoers like to complain about cliched plots and predictable feel-good endings, box office trends continue to support the notion that in American cinema at least, we don't want reality -- we want fantasy.
But 'One Last Thing...' doesn't cop out. Dylan will take what ultimately becomes an existential journey before he suffers his cruel fate. There are no cheap melodramatic tricks along the way -- he doesn't find God, he doesn't discover the meaning of life, and the peace he eventually does achieve offers no seismic revelations for those around him. Though Nikki will figuratively be "saved" by granting Dylan his final wish, we are left with the distinct impression she hasn't been wholly transformed by the experience, either. The revelations Michael does experience along the way are presented as quiet, measured moments -- almost as throwaways. 'One Last Thing...' is almost disconcerting in its matter-of-factness, in the way it accepts death in such plain terms that there is no Hollywood-sized grandiosity to shield us from its utter finality.
The moments that achieve the most resonance in 'One Last Thing...' are the most ordinary. Director Alex Steyermark and screenwriter Barry Stringfellow never pump up or force a scene. The relationship between Dylan and his mother feel completely believable. Angarano and Nixon are particularly well matched, and I appreciated how even during what Carol knows will be the last few days with her son, she doesn't say all the right things, or feel all the right emotions. These are flawed, real people -- not martyrs. Nikki (well played by Mabrey, in what could have been a thankless role) is also not the caricature we expect. She opens herself to Dylan not just because she's supposed to, but because she realizes if she doesn't, her fate may be even more sealed than Dylan's.
Ultimately, few will probably want to watch 'One Last Thing...' But it is the kind of intelligent, passionate, minor-key movie that everyone complains doesn't get made. Hopefully, this Blu-ray release might help change that. 'One Last Thing...' is a lost little gem well worth discovering.
'One Last Thing...' was shot with HD cameras in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is presented on Blu-ray in 1080i/MPEG-2 video. Honestly I wasn't expecting much, figuring it would be just a cheap conversion (something tossed off to jump-start Magnolia's next-gen commitment). I was wrong. Instead, this disc boasts a rather good-looking image paired with slick photography and strong production values that transcend the movie's low-budget indie origins.
The most noticeable aspect of the transfer is its strong colors. Aside from a bit of dourness evident in some of the early scenes before Dylan leaves for New York, saturation is vibrant and clean. Many of the big city exteriors, as well as a couple of nightclub scenes, are quite flush with color. Fleshtones are also generally accurate, although again, some of the early scenes seem a bit too tinted towards green or sickly yellow. There is also a bit of obvious noise in the shadows, typical of shot-on-HD material. Otherwise, this is a sharp, quite detailed presentation -- I came away quite surprised, and pleased.
Though not as impressive as the video, 'One Last Thing...' sounds just fine on Blu-ray. This is an almost wholly dialogue-driven film. As such, the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround tracks included here (both encoded at 640kbps) don't have much to work with. Whichever you choose, the sound design is front heavy and hardly immersive.
Basic tech specs are perfectly solid. Occasionally some of the canned effects and dubbed-in dialogue sounds inorganic to the rest of the mix, while dynamic range is also healthy but hardly expansive. Low bass never really rocks, and the film does sound "small." However, I liked the minor ambiance during some of the city scenes, and dialogue is always clear and intelligible.
Extras are rather sparse. There are only two supplements included -- both decent, but unexceptional.
First up is an audio commentary with director Alex Steyermark, who seems like a nice guy, with a pleasing voice. His insights are intelligent and well though-out, but the track is slow, and perhaps too technical. I'm always surprised by commentaries for "smaller films" like this that focus on setting up shots and the like, when really, most of us don't care. For me, the most fascinating aspect was how difficult it was to sell 'One Last Thing...' to the major studios, which ultimately resulted in the HDNet cable network picking up the film. I wish Steyermark had focused more on this angle and the film's challenging subject matter, instead of clapboards and f-stops.
The only other included supplement is an episode of the HDNet series "Higher Definition," focusing on 'One Last Thing...' Shot simply (in full 1080i video), it's essentially a one-on-one chat with Steyermark and host Robert Wilonsky, who quite frankly sounds like he probably didn't see the film. There are also a few interview pieces with Cynthia Nixon, Michael Angarano and Sunny Mabrey. Though Steyermark doesn't offer much that isn't covered in his audio commentary, it is nice to hear from the rest of the cast.
'One True Thing...' is a laudable little sleeper. I was really captivated by the film, although its pleasures are ultimately small. Still, I would recommend the movie to anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path. This Blu-ray is a nice effort from Magnolia -- the transfer was better than I expected for a low-budget indie shot on HD, and there are couple of decent extras. If you're sick of all the action blockbusters and inspirational sports flicks currently being released on Blu-ray, definitely consider giving this one a rental.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.