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20th Century Fox presents
Stay (2005)

"I didn't mean to hurt anybody."
- Henry (Ryan Gosling)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: March 19, 2006

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Ryan Gosling
Other Stars: Bob Hoskins, Jeneane Garofolo
Director: Marc Forster

MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing images
Run Time: 01h:39m:15s
Release Date: March 28, 2006
UPC: 024543223924
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- CA-A- C+

DVD Review

Marc Forster's Stay is a psychological thriller less notable for what it's about than how it's about it. I didn't much like the surface story, but there's a lot going on underneath it that's subtle and interesting and worth watching. There are showy directorial tricks, but they are unified and purposeful and inform the story, the antithesis of the excess on display in something like Tony Scott's Domino. But the script isn't engaging enough, and after a while, all that extra effort starts to seem like overkill.

Sam (Ewan McGregor) is a psychologist who has recently taken on a new patient, Henry (Ryan Gosling). Henry is having visions and hearing voices, and is unable to distinguish hallucinations from reality. He tells his doctor he plans to kill himself in three days. Sam decides to learn more about Henry in order to help him, but finds he's starting to lose his grip on his own sanity. He speaks to a woman claiming to be Henry's mother, but then learns the woman has been dead for months. He sees the same passersby day after day in the street, hears them repeating the same polite greetings. The story is full of these repetitions and doublings. Sam's girlfriend Lila (Naomi Watts) is an artist like Henry; she once tried to kill herself, too. When he walks down the street, you might notice that Sam is frequently surrounded by twins and triplets.

A lot of Stay will seem confusing if you don't know the ending, a puzzle to be slowly assembled and then re-assembled later, as you think back on the movie. Except it's pretty clear how all the pieces fit together very early on (maybe it would still be satisfying if you're the kind of person who likes to cheat and look at the picture on the box). Since The Sixth Sense, "gotcha" endings have become de rigueur, but also much easier to predict, because the audience is expecting it. It doesn't help that Stay is a virtual remake of a popular late-'80s psychological thriller that I obviously can't name without ruining the ending. Not that Forster is at all subtle with the hints and red herrings throughout. I almost wonder if he knew everyone was likely to figure out "the twist" and just wound up using the story as an excuse to play around, using camera tricks and digital effects and breaking the "rules" of cinema and editing in order to screw with the audience and fuss with the notion of generally accepted movie "reality."

Editor Matt Chesse deserves top billing for coming up with a few tricks I've never seen before. He likes to mess around with screen geography, cutting between two sides of a conversation but leaving the speakers on the same side of the screen, an effect that's confusing because 100 years of movie history has trained us to expect their positions to switch. He also came up with an interesting series of internal transitions that work both visually and textually. At one point, Ewan McGregor's character is looking out a window at two characters talking in a courtyard. The camera then pushes through the window and cuts down to the conversation, and we realize Ewan is there, and we've moved forward in time. Later on, we see a character emerging from a car while, in the background, he's visible climbing the steps to a building. In my favorite quick shot, a camera is facing Ewan as he lies in bed, and moves with him as he sits up. By the time he's vertical, there's been a digital edit, and he's dressed and the background has changed—suddenly we're outside, and he's riding a bike down the street.

It's not just style for style's sake; all these nifty innovations serve the story, but they also highlight how thin and obvious it is, and how much of it is cobbled together from genre convention—I should be thinking hard about the editing after the movie is over, not while it's going on. David Benioff (Troy, The 25th Hour) has buried a worthy concept under ponderous dialogue and wandering plot threads, and the big reveal at the end provides an explanation for lots of things, but not everything, and so it feels like a bit of a cheat, even though we know it's coming. Forster, who seems here nothing like the director who made the big-hearted weepie Finding Neverland and the spare Monster's Ball, put a lot of thought into this, and I'd like to say it deserves to be seen, but I don't know if it would really inspire anyone not attuned to its film school tricks. The style lends it some substance, but not enough.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Stay is a dark film, but it translates well to DVD in this fine, detailed transfer, which features appropriately muted colors, deep blacks, and excellent shadow detail. Even the darkest scenes don't suffer from pronounced grain, and though the film has been squeezed onto a double-sided, single layer disc (with widescreen on one side and full frame on the other), I noticed no obvious artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Stay's sound mix makes the most of the film's creepy atmosphere with an active, enveloping DD 5.1 mix. It does well enough in quieter moments, with a wide front soundstage and active surrounds used to create atmosphere through the odd, slightly atonal score and, usually, rain. But there are a few moments, including a car crash shot from inside the vehicle, which could be considered reference quality, with booming LFE, directional and front to back panning. My only complaint is that the mix seems to be a little overcooked; the surrounds are so active, dialogue is sometimes a little hard to make out (which caused me to turn it up, with may have colored my impressions of the car crash a bit).

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Marc Forster, actor Ryan Gosling, editor Matt Chesse, visual effects desginer Kevin Howe, director of photography Roberto Schaffer
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Rather than full commentaries, Stay packs everything into two condensed tracks over select scenes (available only on the widescreen side of the disc). The first, with director Marc Forster and actor Ryan Gosling, includes five segments, with a total running time of around 23 minutes. They share anecdotes and discuss the scenes from a story point of view, noting how the performances inform the narrative. The fact that the track is so short probably means its more interesting and focused.

Forster is joined by editor Matt Chesse, visual effects designer Kevin Howe and director of photography Roberto Schaffer for seven additional scenes (43m:25s). This partial track is a lot better, as it focuses more on aspects of the film that I found interesting and unique, particularly Schaffer's photography coupled with Chesse's fluid editing. They spend a bit too much time goofing around together (and, irritatingly, Forster seems reluctant to give away the "secrets" buried in the film), but there is some good technical information here.

There are two featurettes, one on either side of the disc. The first, on the widescreen side, can't really be discussed without revealing the film's major plot twist, so stop reading if you don't want to be totally spoiled.

OK, fair warning: Departing Visions (06m:59s) concerns near death experiences (NDE) and visions, and centers on a group of NDE survivors who meet monthly in an office building in Los Angeles. The group members share their stories, which are familiar enough if you've looked into this kind of thing before.

The second featurette, The Music of Stay (08m:15s) is an interesting look at the work that went into the film's unusual score. Composers Thad Spencer, Tom Scott, Chris Beaty, and Richard Werbowenko talk about how they "invented" instruments by recording, say, a paino and a guitar playing the same note and then using it like a single entity, or recording a piano to an old tape recorder and then digitizing it. It certainly made me appreciate the score, which I can't saytood out during the film, whether that's a good or bad thing from the composers' perspective.

The theatrical trailer, also on the fullscreen side, rounds out a small but decent collection of extras.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

I really wish Marc Forster's film had a better, more original script, because this is easily one of the most visually and technically inventive films to come out of a major Hollywood studio in quite some time. Stay is worth a rental for that reason alone, but don't expect the story to linger in your memory.


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