Studio: IFC Films
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh, Natasha Lyonne, Paul Hipp
Director: Abel Ferrara
Release Date: July 28, 2012, 9:35 am
Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:21m:49s
“At 4:44AM EST, tomorrow morning, give or take a few seconds, the world will come to an end.” - Cisco (Willem Dafoe)
Movie Grade: B+
DVD Grade: B
If you knew the world was going to end at a specific time on a specific day, what would you do during your last 24 hours of existence? Such a question has been posed in more films recently than ever, given the world’s many current problems, and countless predictions of the actual, imminent, end of days. The same question is at the heart of the new film, 4:44 Last Day On Earth, a little-known film that is the latest writing and directing effort by Abel Ferrara, best known for showing us “all” of Harvey Keitel in 1992’s Bad Lieutenant, and being responsible for one of Christopher Walken’s best performances in 1990’s King of New York. Despite receiving only a miniscule theatrical release earlier this year, 4:44 is considered by at least a handful of critics to be one of the best films of 2012, so far, and now, thanks to IFC’s Blu-ray disc, we can all, now, stack it up against the rest of what this year has brought us to date.
The Earth’s ozone layer has been deteriorating for years, but now, on the verge of disintegrating completely, the literal end of the world is upon us. More specifically, in 14 hours and 44 minutes, at 4:44 AM, the ozone layer will be gone and the planet will be covered in flames brought about by the sun’s deadly heat rays. After all of these years, and massive skepticism, it turns out that Al Gore was right, and now, the inhabitants of Earth must decide what to do with their final hours of existence, while at the same time, trying to cope on an emotional and existential level. Two such people are apartment-dwellers Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and his much younger lover, Skye (Shanyn Leigh), he an actor overcoming a drug problem, and she, a Picasso-esque painter. They spend their final hours loving, fighting, painting, and fighting off old temptations, but as the clock inevitably ticks towards 4:44, they have far more important choices to make than they could have imagined.
Some might want to see a bit more things, well, happen, during the final days of Earth’s existence, but Ferrara takes a slow, moody, thought-provoking approach with 4:44 Last Day On Earth. He could have easily chosen to take an over-the-top, dramatic look at how people would react to our planet’s imminent doom, but in studying Cisco and Skye on an intimate, existential level, he allows the audience a better means of relating to them. We’re also able to put ourselves in their shoes and argue about what we would have done differently in such a predicament. There are bound to be comparisons made to Lars Von Trier’s similarly-themed, and superior end-of-days epic, Melancholia, but Ferrara’s film is vastly different in its overall treatment of such a subject. Again, the cast and overall execution of Von Trier’s film takes it to another level, but 4:44 is a fresh, enthralling study in the human psyche and how it reacts to such a cataclysmic event.
As is usually the case with anything that Willem Dafoe is involved with these days, the artistic success of 4:44 hinders quite a bit on the effectiveness of his performance. Fortunately, Dafoe is excellent here, and, while Cisco isn’t a huge stretch from other cool, down-trodden characters he’s played in the past, he’s just as unforgettable. Leigh’s work as Skye is a different story, as this is only her fifth feature film, and she’s certainly still rough around the edges, to say the least. She does a fine job portraying an aloof artist who, at times seems oblivious to the inevitability of the situation, but it’s also tough to tell if this aloofness is a result of Leigh’s acting inexperience or an actual strong performance. It might be unfair to mention that Leigh is Abel Ferrara’s girlfriend, but this wouldn’t be the first case of a director/lead actor relationship situation. Still, this is Dafoe’s film to steer and his fine work keeps the film at a high level throughout.
IFC’s Blu-ray disc is impressive, yet never game-changing, boasting a nice, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, 1080p video presentation. Abel Ferrara shot the film using the Red One MX camera, and images are always richly detailed, with brilliant colors and accurate flesh tones as highlights of the transfer. Where the transfer stumbles is in its handling of the visual effects, which look quite unnatural, and, for lack of a better word, cheap. The audio is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (there’s a Linear PCM 2.0 option also) that does more with this dialogue- driven film than expected. Said dialogue is always crystal clear and well-integrated into the rest of mix, but the surprise lies in the liberal use of the surrounds during some of the more surreal sequences. Unfortunately, the only extra is the trailer for 4:44 Last Day On Earth.
Chuck Aliaga July 28, 2012, 9:35 am