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What Doesn't Kill You(2008)
Ethan Hawke and Mark Ruffalo lead an all-star cast in this drama about a pair of childhood friends from the gritty streets of South Boston that turn to crime as a way to get by, ultimately causing a strain in their personal lives and their friendship. Also starring Donnie Wahlberg, Amanda Peet and Brian Goodman.
For more about What Doesn't Kill You and the What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray release, see What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on April 13, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke, Amanda Peet, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Goodman
Director: Brian Goodman
» See full cast & crew
What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray Review
An autobiographical gangster film appears with good picture and sound.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, April 13, 2009
I admit it. Gangster films are my favorite genre. They encapsulate the full range of what motion picture entertainment is all about. Done right, a mob movie will have its share of humor, drama, nonfiction and of course violence. Themes include honor, betrayal, revenge, love, loyalty and faith. And fantasy! Who said gangsters aren't living in a fantasy world? Need to get your insurance company to cover your latest dental bill? Send in Luca Brasi or Furio Giunta and they'll take care of it. Of course, The Godfather was the perfected mafia story brought to screen and The Sopranos was a series that got inside the head of a crime boss in a way few protagonists have been explored in any show or movie. And both showcased writing and acting that redefined the genre. What Doesn't Kill You is not as innovative. But it does have many of the pieces in place to deliver 100 minutes of tough-guy entertainment with exceptional camera work and solid technical merits. And while the acting, directing and writing aren't going to win any awards, they aren't nearly as bad as most mob movies these days which--let's face it--have devolved into little more than a series of cliches. At least What Doesn't Kill You makes the cliches watchable and even at times appear fresh.
The story kicks off as Brian Reilly (Mark Ruffalo) and Paulie McDougan (Ethan Hawke) embrace their gangster destiny under boss Pat Kelly (Brian Goodman). Together and separately, they shake down local businesses and drug dealers in their South Boston neighborhood. Unlike Paulie, Brian has a family. His wife and two kids are initially little more than a constant source of guilt for Brian, who knows on some level he is letting them down. His wife Stacy (Amanda Peet) peppers him with reminders at every opportunity, and the tension begins to eat away at him. Brian turns to drugs and alcohol, which further embroil him in the gangster lifestyle in a cyclical downward spiral of addiction, crime and violence. It's a cycle that Paulie embraces even more strongly than Brian, but the prospect of losing his wife and two boys provides the motivation Brian needs to try to turn his life around. Law enforcement provides further motivation after Brian is busted.
In some ways, What Doesn't Kill You is more taught and better acted than the Oscar-anointed Boston crime thriller, The Departed. Ruffalo sinks his teeth into the most complicated character portrayal of his career. What Doesn't Kill You also marks Ethan Hawke's best performance to date and the directorial debut of Brian Goodman. Perhaps he should have handed the reins to someone else, though. Having come back from his own gangster hell, involving two prison terms and a nasty addiction, Goodman may have been too close to the material to see that he wasn't giving the audience a completely fresh perspective. Overall, he delivers an admirable performance and good direction, although he's no Martin Scorsese. If there is any complaint of the material, it's the stale writing. The cinematography is actually quite fresh, expecially the powerful scenes depicting the freebasing, which reminded me of similar scenes in the Harvey Keitel classic Bad Lieutenant.
What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray, Video Quality
What Doesn't Kill You features one of Sony's better transfers to MPEG-4 AVC. The bloating to the yellows and blues isn't overt--possibly because the entire film has an almost black-and-white feel to it because of the wintery environs and artistic cinematography. Of course, it isn't black and white and contrast and earthtones are spot-on. Skin color and black level are lifelike, contributing to a good depth appearance. The photography and sense of composition on the screen are the highlight of the visual experience. What Doesn't Kill You is shot with an artistic, instinctive feel for the symmetry of each set and the placement of the characters. A wintry Boston itself seems to play a character. With expert cinematography capturing the south side's streets, neighborhoods and buildings, What Doesn't Kill You visually achieves great tension, gritty realism and story movement.
The 1080p presentation is a touch too antiseptic to make you feel as though you are watching projected film rather than a digital medium. The noise is relegated to mere small grain particles that are entirely unobtrusive. Detail is good but not the kind that will make your jaw hit the floor. The overall picture is almost up to par with the most detailed Blu-ray, but since the source material may not be as defined as the immaculate, big-budget production shot on better cameras and produced on better equipment, the end product is not as glitzy. Much of the film is shot in dark areas or at night, for a noir feel, and I noticed no pixelation during these scenes.
What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Probably the most disarming element of the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is the sound of snow crunching underfoot and under the tires of vehicles. Rendered with excellent precision and definition, it sounds realistic. When you are tempted to look outside your window in April, during a warm day in California to see if the sound of crunching snow came from outside, it's time to give kudos to a convincing soundtrack. Voices have no less realism. They sound clear and defined with timbral accuracy. Gunshots and other sound effects also appear realistic. The soundstage is a sort of chameleon. It changes depending on the action and intensity of the scene. Mostly it is a narrow soundstage, anchored front and center, but during bursts of action or outdoor scenes, the rear channels come alive. Music plays a small role in the production, but it's a solid delivery of the two Swamp Dogg songs, "Funktastic Galactic Rock" and "Buzzard Luck". The highs sound detailed and extended; mids are lush and midbass is taught and rich. The deep bass never really gets a workout and I had to check my LFE channel to make sure I had remembered to turn it on.
What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
While the supplements included are fairly interesting and informative, they are in standard definition. Of course, that doesn't matter for the audio commentary, which is the most fleshed-out bonus material included here. The commentary focuses on director Brian Goodman, who also wrote the screenplay and plays mob boss Pat Kelly. For Goodman, the project was clearly a labor of love as he was driven to bring his autobiographical story to the screen. He is joined by cowriter Donnie Wahlberg, who gave the screenplay a jumpstart after Goodman first sketched it out. Since both commentators share an affinity for each other and the project was very important to both of them, the alternate track is more straightforward, heartfelt and less meandering than the average audio commentary slapped on disc. In addition to covering the decade-long push from script to release, Goodman comments on his own life--prison stints, drug addiction and motivation to be there for his family. While we sometimes get lost in the mindless killing and action of most gangster films, this commentary serves as a stark reminder that lives are at stake. A highlight of the disc.
What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger--The bonus content also includes a 20-minute featurette with cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. It would be nice to have high definition production, but one gets the feeling that the studio wanted to cut cost in any area possible. The interviews with Goodman, Wahlberg, Ruffalo, Hawke and Peet are informative and often peppered with interesting anecdotes.
Rounding out the bonus content is 16 minutes worth of deleted and alternate scenes and previews for many of Sony's upcoming and recent Blu-ray discs, including The International, Waltz with Bashir, Damages, Casino Royale: Collector's Edition, Resident Evil: Degeneration, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and The Da Vinci Code: Extended Cut.
What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fans of gangster films should give What Doesn't Kill You a rental or even a blind buy. There are much worse movies to add to your library and chances are some of them are sitting on your shelf right now. While the mob genre has been done to death since the days of James Cagney, with true innovators of film reinvigorating the theme, Goodman has lived the life and offers his own perspective. While What Doesn't Kill You had the potential of becoming a self-aggrandizing or preachy exposition, I didn't feel it headed too far in that direction at all. Just as importantly for the HT crowd, the audio and video are above average. Unless you're averse to mafia movies, you really can't go wrong with this one.
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What Doesn't Kill You Blu-ray, News and Updates
• What Doesn't Kill You Announced for Blu-ray - February 17, 2009
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'What Doesn't Kill You' to Blu-ray on April 28th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Video will be presented in 1.85:1 1080p AVC accompanied by a 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. As will all new Sony ...
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