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Vanguard Cinema presents
God's Lonely Man (1996)

"Something has got to change here. Everytime I see something that I just can't have, like Meradith, this nausea just hits me. I get this sickness in my stomach. Even Jesus, he had Magdalene, right? I'm not saying I'm Jesus, but aren't we all supposed to be God-like?"
- Ernest (Michael Wyle)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: March 06, 2003

Stars: Michael Wyle, Heather McComb
Other Stars: Paul Dooley, Justine Bateman, Kevin Haley, Roxana Zal, Ginger Lynn Allen, Kieran Mulroney, Tom Towles, Diane Weiss
Director: Francis Von Zerneck

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, language, disturbing images)
Run Time: 01h:40m:42s
Release Date: September 24, 2002
UPC: 658769202731
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB-B+ A-

DVD Review

God's Lonely Man is a coarse, violent 1996 indie that has a lot in common with another, more mainstream bit of classic American cinema: Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Both films deal with social misfits struggling to survive in an ugly, cruel world, and both feature a teenage prostitute as the dramatic catalyst for violent and redemptive upheaval.

While there is no discounting the impact Scorsese's film has had over the years, it is impossible to not see or be reminded of that film while watching God's Lonely Man. Is it imitation? Is it an homage? Oddly, writer/director Francis Von Zerneck neatly sidesteps nearly any mention of Taxi Driver on this disc's commentary track, because it seems as if he had far more grandiose goals for his lead character than simply parrotting the path of DeNiro's Travis Bickle.

Ernest (played by a wiry Michael Wyle, here looking like Travis Bickle's even more disturbed younger brother) is the title character, a man with a Jesus complex who reads (or should I say absorbs) gun magazines while he works the counter at a local adult video store when he is not controlling his rage with copious amounts of street drugs. His life is painfully hollow and empty, as we learn from his ever-present narration (another uncredited nod to Scorsese's film), and he is burdened with violent fits of nausea whenever he is confronted with something he cares about. A chance meeting with fourteen-year-old prostitute Christiane (Heather McComb) acts as a life-changing moment for Ernest, and he embarks on a single-minded path that he trusts will finally deliver him to some well-deserved higher plane of existence.

While Wyle's channeling of DeNiro's Bickle seems none too subtle, he plays it with a rather watchable level of rage-driven awkwardness; it's almost like "Son of Taxi Driver," it's so close. Von Zerneck's real acting coup was landing Heather McComb as Christiane, because her performance is so effortless it was like I was peering in on a real flesh-and-blood person, and not a movie character. Her movements, mannerisms and speech patterns are so free-flowing and natural, even when she is recalling horrific events at the hands of her sexually abusive stepfather and his circle of wealthy pedophiles, that McComb imbues Christiane with a depth and an engaging sort of rough-edged tenderness. McComb is incredible.

Watch for a truly creepy turn by Paul Dooley as the vile pedophile Polo, who not only unleashes a sickening recollection of a young boy he just met, but who makes vile specialty films that serve as one of the most chilling moments in God's Lonely Man. It is a scene that uncomfortably draws us instantly closer to Ernest, a man whose actions up to that point have been nothing less than heinously flawed.

Von Zerneck may have, whether purposefully or not, borrowed liberally from Scorsese's Taxi Driver playbook, and some film purists may not find imitation the sincerest form of flattery. Wyle's Ernest, regardless of what Von Zerneck may think, IS Travis Bickle reincarnated. Still, Scorsese's characters and Von Zerneck's both move in eerily similar worlds, but their motivations and reasonings are distinctly their own.

God's Lonely Man is a hypnotic, at times immensely disturbing film that is powerful, well-acted and one that bristles with violent fits of desperation and rage.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Vanguard has issued God's Lonely Man in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. The source print has quite a few instances of white specks and other minor debris, as well as some minor ringing. Colors are a little muted, but the presentation reflects the dreary, downbeat storyline.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: For such a dialogue-driven film I was pleasantly surprised at the subtle aggressiveness of this 2.0 surround track. Rears come alive during a number of pivotal transition sequences, with airplanes and sirens creating a suddenly frantic yet layered cacophony; imaging across the front channels is very lively, as well. Dialogue is clear, and the James Fearnly original score is reproduced with all of its raw, frenetic fury intact.

Who needs 5.1 when 2.0 sounds this good? Especially for a small indie.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Francis Von Zerneck, Larry Maddox, Dennis Smith
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Kudos to Vanguard on the extras for including an information-rich full-length commentary from writer/director Francis Von Zerneck, editor Larry Maddox and director of photography Dennis Smith. Von Zerneck, who presides over the track, intelligently expounds and elaborates on how he intended the character of Ernest to be "a metaphor for the human condition" in his struggle to emulate God. Smith contributes a lot of well-versed technical info on lighting techniques and framing styles, and Maddox contributes insight from the editor's perspective. Von Zerneck drops a couple of cool casting tidbits, such as that he originally wanted to cast Season Hubley as Christiane's mother, so that God's Lonely Man would seem like an extension of her character Niki from Paul Schrader's Hardcore. My only complaint is that there is no sound for the film during the commentary, and during a few scenes (like Polo's disturbing story for being late), the participants are silent. Von Zerneck reacts to some of the dialogue, but we (the viewer) can't hear what he's reacting to. Still, this is just a terrific commentary track in so many ways, and one that truly adds to the appreciation of this remarkable film.

A Making of Documentary (16m:10s) is really just a loose collection of narration-free, behind-the-scenes footage shot with a handheld, and not truly a documentary. Along with a theatrical trailer, the disc is cut into 12 chapters.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

It may owe much more than a simple nod to Taxi Driver, but Francis Von Zerneck's God's Lonely Man is an equally hard-hitting story of a disenfranchised loner who reaches out to help a teenage prostitute. Micheal Wyle channels Travis Bickle-era DeNiro perfectly as Ernest, though his awkward edginess often seems to be more imitation than acting, but Heather McComb is absolutely perfect as Christiane, the girl who serves as the soul-saving mission in Ernest's lonely life.

Highly recommended.


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