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Recently paroled Michael Woods (Paul Walker) just wants to get his life in order. But when he discovers a gun, a cell phone, and an unconscious woman in the trunk of a rental car, he fears he's in for the ride of his life. Michael has some serious decisions to make-either keep his head down and hope to escape with his life, or risk it all to do the right thing.
For more about Vehicle 19 and the Vehicle 19 Blu-ray release, see Vehicle 19 Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on July 17, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Paul Walker, Naima McLean, Gys de Villiers
Director: Mukunda Michael Dewil
» See full cast & crew
Vehicle 19 Blu-ray Review
Always Take the Insurance
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, July 17, 2013
One's ability to enjoy Vehicle 19, the second feature by South African writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil, depends on two critical factors. The first is whether one can accept Paul Walker as more than the blond pretty boy of the Fast and Furious franchise, which proved to be an insuperable hurdle for many reviewers who saw the film during its brief theatrical release. But for fans of Running Scared, which I recently had the pleasure of revisiting, Walker's work here will have a familiar feel, as his character plumbs similar depths of frantic desperation but without the benefit of an elaborate build-up and backstory. The second critical factor is whether one views Vehicle 19 as a car chase film. As the title suggests, an automobile is involved, and the film includes one extended sequence that could fairly be described as a demolition derby on the streets of Johannesburg. But Vehicle 19 is less about pursuit than about confinement within the interior of a car that, through a series of bizarre twists, the occupant finds he cannot leave. The fact that this impromptu holding cell happens to be moving through an increasingly hostile landscape makes the film visually interesting for the viewer but no less claustrophobic for the unfortunate driver, who was already having a hard day when he entered the vehicle.
Like many genre directors, Dewil opens with a short burst of frenetic action, then quickly rewinds to show how it all began. An American traveler, Michael Woods (Walker), picks up his rental car in space 19 of the Hertz lot at the Johannesburg airport. It's a minivan, which isn't what he requested, but he's in a hurry and doesn't have time to sort out the mistake. Michael has come to try to reconcile with his ex-wife, Angelica (Leyla Haidarian), who works in the American diplomatic service. Sketchy details of their history emerge throughout the film. It has taken a long time for Michael to persuade Angelica to accept his visit, and he doesn't want to keep her waiting. As if coping with English-style driving on the left, unfamiliar streets and Johannesburg traffic weren't enough of a challenge, Michael shortly discovers that Hertz has really given him the wrong vehicle. His minivan was obviously meant for a professional criminal. The first clues are the cell phone with a cryptic text message and the silenced pistol under the passenger's seat. Shortly thereafter, Michael discovers other contents that leave no doubt he was not the intended driver. After Alfred Hitchcock was asked early in his career why his beleaguered heroes didn't go to the police, he made sure in his later films to include a good reason. Dewil gives Michael several of them, including a call from someone identifying himself as Det. Smith (Gys de Villiers), who apologizes for accidentally involving Michael in a sting operation and directs him to an address where the authorities will take possession of the minivan. When, after much difficulty, Michael finds the remote location, he is greeted with a far different reception than promised. Eventually, after exhausting several possibilities, Michael reaches the moment featured in the trailer, where he realizes that his only choice is between running a gauntlet of heavily armed foes to a possible place of safety, or entrusting himself to people who will almost certainly eliminate him on sight (and very likely his ex-wife as soon as she leaves the protected environs of the U.S. Embassy). At that point, Michael becomes the classic man-with-nothing-to-lose—which brings us back to the urban obstacle course of the film's opening. Some critics complained about Dewil's visual strategy, but it makes perfect sense once you click into the fact that nearly every shot is taken from within Michael's vehicle. The camera either looks out at the landscape—an alien world to Michael and remarkably varied, traveling from the airport highways to the modernized downtown to some of the most desolate and impoverished areas of contemporary Johannesburg—or focuses on Michael from all angles: sideways from the passenger's seat, below from the gas and brake peddles, behind from the rearview, even perched above the dashboard. The interior views become even more interesting during the period that Michael shares his ride with a local woman named Rachel (Naima McLean), who joins him through circumstances best left for the viewer to discover. Their interactions are charged, hyper and frantic, as one would expect between strangers under such conditions. (In the featurette include with the disc, McLean relates how she expected to rehearse with Walker and was shocked when Dawil announced that he was keeping them apart until they met "in character".) Dawil makes only one misstep during Vehicle 19's otherwise taut 85 minutes, and it occurs during the necessary pause when Michael is reaching his decision to make a final assault on the forces massed against him. He's temporarily evaded his adversaries by pulling into a car wash, and one can understand the appeal the imagery must have held for Dawil as both the minivan and Michael are scrubbed clean of their troubled past. But the scene goes on for too long (more than three minutes), and one should never give viewers too much time to contemplate practical questions during an action thriller whose frenetic pace is supposed to explain why the hero couldn't stop to consider alternative actions. (Among other things, I wondered why no one at the car wash asked Michael to pay, especially since it's a plot point elsewhere that he has no money.) But this is a pardonable flaw in an otherwise smooth execution of an intriguing premise, and Dawil recovers quickly, orchestrating an effective finale that knits up all the necessary threads and leaves us contemplating the vagaries of rental car parking. The next time I check in at Hertz, I plan to take a closer look at the vehicle before leaving the lot.
Vehicle 19 Blu-ray, Video Quality
An initial issue is the film's aspect ratio. When my colleague Brian Orndorf reviewed Vehicle 19 theatrically, he logged the ratio at 2.39:1, and indeed the publicity stills provided to reviewers reflect that AR. However, the technical specifications supplied to IMDb (which, as we all know, is not infallible) state that the film is 1.85:1. The image on the disc is framed at 1.78:1, and it did not strike me as unnaturally cramped or cropped. Then again, given the inherently claustrophobic feel of the photography and the small cast, cropping wouldn't be as obvious on Vehicle 19 as on most other films. It's also possible that the image was "opened up" for video, as has been the case with several films. Lacking a definitive answer, all I can do is report what the various sources say and describe what's on the disc. If I receive additional relevant information, I will update the review. After spending so much time lately with digitally acquired projects, it was a pleasure to watch something shot on film, in this case by South African cinematographer Miles Goodall, who handled the location second unit for Mira Nair's Amelia. Goodall had to create special camera rigs for some of the unusual interior point-of-view shots required by Vehicle 19, and he must have had some interesting challenges with lens selection and focus, given the limitations for framing shots. A digital intermediate provided a safety net for adjusting shadows and fixing mistakes. The image on Ketchup Entertainment's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray was presumably sourced from digital files, but it still has the almost indefinable sense of texture that one associates with film-originated projects. (Too many DI-finished films have most of the texture scrubbed away.) That tactile sense contributes greatly to Michael's perception of being a foreigner in an unfamiliar world; indeed, some of the early shots from the driver's seat could have come from a documentary. The image often has strong contrasts under the bright South African sun, but not at the expense of detail, and in the occasional dark interior (notably a parking garage), the blacks are accurate and the shadow detail still discernible. Colors tend to be somewhat overpowered by the brightness of the sun, but occasional vivid hues stand out (e.g., the red paint that gets slapped on the minivan at one point). A noticeable grain structure remains, but it is extremely fine. Certainly there is no indication of filtering or artificial sharpening, and with an average bitrate in excess of 26 Mbps, compression errors were not an issue.
Vehicle 19 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Vehicle 19's audio mix, presented here in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, is distinctive, because everything is heard from inside the minivan. A collision in the opening sequence, with what appears to be a homeless man's shopping cart filled with bric-a-brac, sets the pattern. The metallic clank and clatter hits sharply to the left and side—and then it's quickly gone, left in the minivan's wake. The sound mixers have obviously taken great care to match sounds outside the van to the camera's point of view and the appropriate speed and direction of the vehicle, and the illusion is effective. Michael's and, for the duration of her stay, Rachel's dialogue is clearly rendered, as are the various voices at the other end of cell phone calls. The tense thriller score is credited to Daniel Matthee and James Matthes, but the dynamic pulse of the soundtrack comes from South African rap groups Die Antwoor and Teargas.
Vehicle 19 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Vehicle 19 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As I said at the outset, one's enjoyment of Vehicle 19 very much depends on one's perception of the star. Anyone who liked Walker in Running Scared will probably enjoy Vehicle 19, although the latter is nowhere near as wild a journey. It's a spare thriller that builds on a simple premise and cleaves with militant precision to its self-imposed stylistic limits. Limits can be useful; they inspire invention. Recommended.
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Vehicle 19 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Vehicle 19 Blu-ray - July 2, 2013
Ketchup Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of writer/director Mukunda Michael Dewil's Vehicle 19, starring Paul Walker, Naima McLean, Gys de Villiers, Leyla Haidarian, and Tshepo Maseko. The action thriller arrives on Blu-ray on July 23rd.
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