Infidelity, charity, blackmail, raccoons, and a bow & arrow.  These are a few of the details in Jacob Aaron Estes’ The Details, and the devil is in them.  The film, which stars Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, and Ray Liotta, Laura Linney, and Dennis Haysbert, is a chaotic dark comedy, dripping with the offbeat indie sensibility which is characteristic of Sundance dramedys.  To find out more about this runaway train of silly and tragic circumstances, check out the rest of the review after the jump…

The Details is the story of Jeff (Maguire), a successful doctor with a young family, whose life takes a turn for the crazy when his recently sodded back yard becomes a buffet for a group of invasive raccoons.  His obsession over beautifying his idyllic home becomes yet another point of contention between him and his wife (Banks).  When the rockiness of their marriage drives Jeff into the arms of an old med-school friend, who happens to be married (Washington & Liotta), and his nosy neighbor (Linney) discovers his secrets, things take a turn for the weird.  The only way Jeff can hope find redemption for himself is by imposing himself in the life of a terminally ill basketball partner (Haysbert), and hope that his good deeds will be enough to make things right, karmically.  But, as can be expected from a silly, dark comedy, nothing works out as planned.

The Players:

  • Director/Writer – Jacob Aaron Estes
  • Actors – Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Ray Liotta, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Kerry Washington

The Good:

  • The Cast – Every one of these actors is playing against the type they are typically known for.  The effervescent Elizabeth Banks plays a cranky, difficult housewife.  Laura Linney plays a whacked-out, paranoid neighbor with the kind of crazy abandon that would otherwise be a role given to Catherine O’Hara.  Ray Liotta brings a sensitivity to his tough-guy persona which is unexpected and welcome.  Dennis Haysbert, complete with a salt and pepper beard and a set of false, cracked teeth, steps down from the eloquent, dignified kinds of characters we’ve become accustomed to seeing him in.  And this could mark the first time Tobey Maguire has actually seemed like an adult, rather than a boy playing one.
  • Editing/Pacing - A lot happens in this movie.  Significant plot points come like rapid fire, but with stylized montages combined with even pacing during scenes, they never seem especially rushed or disjointed.  The story follows a logical progression, with Murphy’s law in full effect.  On paper, the occurrences of this film seem extremely silly, but as it goes on and finds its footing, everything in it seems to make perfect sense.

The Bad:

  • The Characters – With the exception of Dennis Haysbert’s Lincoln, and possibly Ray Liotta’s Peter, there is not one sympathetic character among the cast.  They are all shallow, manipulative, and generally despicable.  Why should we care about any of these characters, when none of them exhibit qualities worth the effort?  Jeff’s quest for redemption may be a genuine one, but he’s only got himself to blame for putting himself in the position he finds himself in.
  • Trifling – At the end of the day, this movie carries little weight.  Considering its placement among such strong and significant films at the Sundance Film Festival, it really doesn’t compare to the emotional experiences of just about any other film screened.

Overall:

The Details is an enjoyable enough film in which its cast get to stretch their muscles in new directions, but ultimately falls short of being a truly engaging film.  Laura Linney’s performance is exceptional, and includes one of the funniest sex scenes of recent memory, and Dennis Haysbert could make reading the ingredients off of a soup can sound impressive, but the story and its consequences don’t end up leading to an especially satisfying place.

Rating: 5.5/10