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HBO presents
Pu-239 (2007)

"Never go back there. Promise me you will never go back there."
- Timofey (Paddy Considine)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: April 08, 2008

Stars: Paddy Considine, Radha Mitchell, Oscar Isaac
Other Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Jordan Long, Jason Flemyng, Connor McIntyre, Stefan Iancu, Mélanie Thierry, Danya Baryshnikov, Steven Berkoff
Director: Scott Z. Burns

MPAA Rating: R for language, violence, sexual content and brief drug use
Run Time: 01h:37m:22s
Release Date: March 25, 2008
UPC: 883929007837
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB- C+

DVD Review

Set in one of the so-called "secret cities" of the mid-1990s post-Soviet Russia, a nuclear power plant employee named Timofey (Paddy Considine) is exposed to a massive dose of radiation after an accident at the horribly dilapidated facility.

Desperate to provide for his wife (Radha Mitchell) and young son after his imminent death, Timofey steals 100 grams of weapons grade Pu-239 ("the highest purity") and heads to Moscow to try and sell it to the highest bidder. An encounter with Shiv (Oscar Isaac)—a two-bit street thug who has his own imminent death to be concerned about—leads to a strange partnership, one that is coarsely mixed with dark humor and sudden violence.

Pu-239 is the combo platter writing/directing debut for Scott Z. Burns (screenwriter for The Bourne Ultimatum), here adapting a short story from Ken Kalfus. Unlike the slam-bang intensity of the Bourne film, Pu-239 unfolds somewhat unconventionally, alternating between the bittersweet desperation of Timofey and his situation and the violently comic misadventures of Shiv and his dog-hating partners. As their storylines quickly overlap, Burns then marries the slow-cooking-from-the-inside-dying of Timofey with the bumbling-broken-English of Shiv, as both men get entrenched with a pair of very brutal crime bosses.

Considine—a largely underrated as an actor—does it up hauntingly well as the compelling tragic hero, as an honest guy pushed to a selfish criminal act that has more far-reaching implications than simply the fate of his wife and child. He's looking for the quick fix, and Considine makes the unforgivable crime seem almost noble. That silent pride is nice contrast to the gritty wheeler-dealer antics of Shiv, as Oscar Isaac dabbles in Borat-like mangled English, melding a strange level of comedy into his own sort of selfish survival actions. Considine and Isaac are a queer pair, grandly mismatched but both reeking with similar desperation.

Hardly a feel-good film, Pu-239 erupts suddenly in unusual directions, as Burns paints Eastern European bleakness in big, ugly strokes, interrupted by pockets of Snatch-esque humor. And as things turn quickly from bad to worse for the main characters involved, Burns closes the film with a wild one-two punch, featuring two vastly opposite sequences. One features a twisted comeuppance that will surely induce a cringe factor in viewers, while the final shot is aesthetically beautiful, layered as it is unspoken long term danger.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: HBO's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation relies largely on purposely desaturated color schemes, soaked in cold metallic or drab brown hues. The few bursts of color—such as during the marketplace sequence—seem especially vibrant by comparison. Solid black levels throughout, though the print carries some moderate shimmer and light grain, but otherwise a smart looking disc.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Nothing especially flashy here, but the compact Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track delivers clear voice quality and a modicum of directional movement. Not much surround activity to measure, but music elements have a full, pleasing texture.

A Spanish 2.0 dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring HBO Films, Rendition, In The Valley Of Elah
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Scott Z. Burns, Peter Berg
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra (aside from a couple of trailers) is a commentary from writer/director Scott Z. Burns and executive producer Peter Berg. It's a fairly dry presentation, with Berg feeding all sorts of questions to Burns, covering locations, secret cities and Paddy Considine's occasional trouble with cracking up when he wasn't supposed to. And if you've seen this film, you know there isn't really anything for his character to be laughing about.

The disc is cut into 10 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Here's a grim drama punctuated by unexpected blobs of dark humor, as poor Paddy Considine finds that being exposed to a deadly dose of radiation is almost the least of his worries. Bleak, depressing and violent, Pu-239 operates well outside the path of being predictable.



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