Whenever little indie films get great pull quotes from well-known outlets, I get my hopes up. Such was the case with 'Roadie.' The tag lines on the Blu-ray's cover art talks about Ron Eldard's raw and gripping performance. Almost every major outlet has something to say along those very lines, so the praise had me excited to watch 'Roadie' – only I failed to notice what each of those quotes was implying. As everyone seemed to agree, Eldard's performance is amazing. But the movie? Not so much. That's the reason the distributor only used quotes pertaining to Eldard. No one had anything great to say about the movie itself.
In 'Roadie,' Eldard plays Jimmy Testagros, a 40-something whose life has just derailed. For the last 20-plus years, Jimmy has been a roadie for Blue Oyster Cult (you know, the band made most famous for having Christopher Walken claim that it needs "more cowbell"). If there was a McGuffin in 'Roadie,' it would be Jimmy's career as a member of the road crew. We don't know how he was seen by the band or why he was fired, all we know is that nobody from the tour will return his countless calls demanding his job back. The touring lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll is all Jimmy knows. He's had no formal education. He hasn't lived in a single location since he was a teenager. After being fired and left behind by the band in "Butt Munch, Michigan," Jimmy has no idea what to do or where to go, so after many years, he goes home.
Having nothing to show for his life, instead of returning with stories of defeat and submission, Jimmy makes of stories of grandeur, claiming that he's a producer for the band, that he co-wrote some of their hits, and that he's only blowing through town before regrouping with the band for a South American tour. No matter how many self-satisfying lies he tells, Jimmy's face can't shake the truth. His appearance conveys his worry, concern, pain, loss, betrayal, and doom. Being a roadie is all he knows and now no band will bring him aboard. His future is grim.
In an escape from the lies he's been feeding his mother, Jimmy heads to town with the excuse of getting butter, but really gets out for some air and a beer. While tossing back a quick cold one in the local pub, Jimmy is recognized by the former high school bully Randy (Bobby Cannavale). While Randy is no longer inclined to beat up on Jimmy, he still refers to him as "testicles," a play on Jimmy's last name Testagros – but this disrespectful gesture isn't as grinding as where Randy's life has gone since high school. Randy has a high-paying job and somehow managed to nab Jimmy's high school sweetheart Nikki (Jill Hennessy). The two have been happily married for 18 years. Everyone, even the high school bully, seems to be doing better than Jimmy.
Of course, Jimmy and Nikki run into one another and immediately connect like no time has passed. Randy's successful job has made it so Nikki doesn't have to work, so she dedicates her time to her acoustic music. Every Sunday night, Nikki plays at the local bar and has a decent and loyal local audience. All of the lies that Jimmy spouts about having connections in the music industry lead Nikki into believing that he can help her start a career in music, and this is the rabbit hole that leads to his moral demise and painful self examination. 'Roadie' serves as a coming-of-middle-age tale.
As the pull quotes state, Eldard and his character are the best things about 'Roadie' - but as great as Eldard's performance is, it would be meaningless had the character of Jimmy not been fleshed out as well as it is. The real shame is that Jimmy is the only character written in this strong way. Randy is your classic douche. He's a grown-up version of Stiffler from 'American Pie' and it makes no sense as to why Jimmy is spending so much time. Jimmy is really looking to reignite the flame with Nikki – another mediocre character. VAGUE SPOILER ALERT. Nikki's character is built up as one thing, then torn down as being something else shortly thereafter. The final product as we see her goes against the grain of what we know about her, as if this little twist was just thrown in simply to create climactic tension. It is not justified or believable.END SPOILER. Cannavale and Hennessy give decent performances, but the poor characterization lessens the praise.
The character of Jimmy and the scenario he is placed in is interesting, but the story of 'Roadie' is lacking. Had the down-and-out version of Jimmy been given a better story to exist within, 'Roadie' might have just as much critical acclaim for the movie as it does Eldard's performance. Even with Eldard, 'Roadie' is nothing special.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia has placed 'Roadie' on a Region A BD-25 in a standard blue keepcase. The cover art features an image of our leading three characters that's quite unfitting. Everyone appears overly happy, which is the opposite of this dark drama. The look on Eldard's face would lead one to believe that 'Roadie' is a heartfelt comedy and that he is the source of all laughs. Upon inserting the disc, two unskippable videos play (a Magnolia vanity reel and a commentary disclaimer) before a handful of skippable trailers ('Melancholia,' 'Angel's Crest,' 'Goon,' 'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' and HDNet).
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'Roadie' carries a soft look that doesn't fare too well on Blu-ray. It isn't fatally flawed, but it's far from featuring the sharpness that we expect.
'Roadie' carries a grain-filled raw look that's usually only found in low-budget titles - which is exactly what 'Roadie' is. Sharpness and detail are not the Blu-ray's strong suits. Fine lines that border objects are hazy and blurred. There are no sharp details to be found here.
The contrast is somewhat funky - blacks appearing too dark and eating up detail while the whites are too bright, also eroding detail. Black levels are decent, but the contrast causes too many dark objects to appear as black voids. Jimmy sits on a coach and rests his feet on a dark object, but you can't tell what in the world that object is. Colors and fleshtones, on the other hand, are natural and lifelike. One scene is set in a tacky neon hotel room not unlike that of 'Blue Valentine.' In this one instance – per the director's decision, I assume – the glowing neon colors are overly saturated.
Added to the gritty video quality is a good amount of digital noise. During flashback sequences, the grain and noise are out of control. The low video quality doesn't allow banding, artifacts or aliasing to ever make an appearance.
Unless we're wrapped in scene full of music, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track of 'Roadie' is mostly lifeless. All music, however, is well mixed throughout the channels. The sub-woofer is actively engaged as different instruments are emitting from different channels around the theater, a high-hat here and a guitar riff there. But when the music trails off, everything good that this mix has going for it dies.
Without music, the surround channels are silent and the sub-woofer is inactive as all vocals and effects come from the front channels. The dialog is clear and untrumped by effects and music, but it doesn't help the flat dynamic-less feel of the film.
The one good characteristic of the effects in the mix is that of the in-movie music. Whenever Jimmy or Nikki put on a record or an iPod, the sound of their cheap/old stereos is authentic. The effects that accompany this music make it sound as it would if you had been in the room. Just like the vocals, this power of this great effect is diminished by the forward feel of the mix.
Being a fan of Ron Eldard since 'Mystery, Alaska' and through 'Black Hawk Down' and 'Super 8,' after hearing the critical praise of his performance, I was truly looking forward to 'Roadie.' It's a shame that the film's story wasn't on par with his moving performance. While Eldard is memorable, the movie itself is utterly forgettable. The distracting sub-par video and audio qualities make this even more of a drag. As great a performance as Eldard gives, it's not enough to raise 'Roadie' from the hoards of other indie dramas out there.