Despite packing some big-name talent, What Doesn’t Kill You made little, if any, waves when it opened in theaters. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a theater that did play it, as despite listing a December 12th release date, Box Office Mojo lists no other data whatsoever on the film. Incredibly strange considering the true story nature of the film, as well as the actors involved, which one would have thought would’ve marketed itself. Still, perhaps it was the similarities to other gritty dramas in recent years that kept it from stepping into the spotlight a little more, but one thing’s for certain: the lack of light this film had shined upon it was definitely not enough.
Brian (Mark Ruffalo) and Paulie (Academy Award® nominee Ethan Hawke, Best Actor In a Supporting Role for Training Day, 2001) are two lifelong friends who grew up like brothers on the gritty streets of south Boston. They started early as street thugs living by the criminal code, doing petty crimes and misdemeanors that grew increasingly more serious. Eventually they fall under the sway of organized crime boss Pat Kelly (Brian Goodman). As Brian becomes increasingly lost in a haze of drugs and ‘jobs,’ he consistently disappoints his loyal wife (Amanda Peet) and their two sons. Torn between the desire to be a good husband and the lure of easy money, Brian must make the hardest choice of his life.
Stepping into this film, I had no idea what to expect, which was largely due to the packaging not making any mention whatsoever that this was a film based on a true story. See, I’m somewhat shallow when it comes to areas of films like these, because if they don’t have a real justification for being, then I chalk them up to some kind of Sopranos style half-dream that got baked into some other plot. So all the while I’m watching the film and generally enjoying the film when it suddenly ends and gives a wrap-up of the characters in the film. What the hell? Usually only parody movies or true-story type films wrap up like that and it wasn’t until I read about the film online and watched the few extras on the set did I realize that this film actually had a real-world basis.
Seriously, whoever was in charge of marketing this movie really dropped the ball. The words “Based on a True Story” go a long way in selling a film and when paired with Ruffalo, Hawke, and Peet…well, it really wouldn’t have been that hard of a sell to audiences. Don’t get me wrong, the film is no masterpiece, and while it doesn’t necessarily have very many flaws, it also isn’t all that original. But to know that this isn’t just a work of fiction and in fact was directly inspired by something someone experienced in real life? That adds a whole other level of storytelling to it. What you originally imagined to be sloppy writing turned out to be real events and the result of that makes for a whole other movie viewing experience.
But I digress. Looking back on the film there isn’t even much to get excited about even if you did know the plots real origins; it’s a very by-the-books type of film, a beginning, middle, and end, but it’s the characters that really keep it moving and interesting. Although it’s not just that, but actor Brian Goodman’s directing (of which this is his first directing effort), which is incredibly fast-paced and always progressing forward. Rarely does he dwell on a shot, instead choosing to cut together sequences in rapid succession, with no lull or brooding period in between. The films speed is felt even more when the prison sequences take place, where we cut from them just coming in, to a “Five Years Later” sign and then a progression from then on. It certainly leaves you with no time to breathe, which is actually a welcome thing as this film is already loaded with drama, it doesn’t need much more.
Still, even with all of the positive things I could say about this film, nothing will really ever elevate it past “eh, it’s okay” status. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the movie and it certainly holds your attention, it just doesn’t leave you with much at the end. It’s something that you would very easily forget, as even the most dramatic of the relationships in the film are barely touched upon. The marriage between Peet and Ruffalo is very lightly discussed (Peet is fed up with Ruffalo’s attitude and druge usage, forgives him, etc. etc.) and Ruffalo’s bonding with his sons is fleeting. There’s more scenes between Ruffalo and Hawke, which I suppose is the real relationship in the film, although Hawke’s disappearance for about ten or twenty minutes of the film before returning feels a bit empty.
Really, again…nothing wrong with the film, but it just ultimately rings a bit hollow. The fake-out intro and ending was a nice touch, but, again, I honestly didn’t even think about it much until I sat down to write the review. Replaying the film in my head I remember more things about it that I enjoyed, but it’s still just not enough to ever watch a second time. Still, it’s Recommended viewing at least once, as the performances from all involved are solid and the story itself is interesting, if, again, a little abrupt and fast paced.
What Doesn’t Kill You arrives on Blu-ray in a single disc elite Blu-ray case, complete with a double sided insert (interior is a wide shot of Hawke and Ruffalo) and an insert advertising the Blu-ray format. Disc art is similar to the rear cover art and the menus are simple and easy to navigate (partly because there’s little to navigate through, but we’ll get to that in a bit).
The film arrives with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer and, as expected from a modern film, it looks pretty good. The constant winter and generally gloomy looking visuals set the mood of the film nicely and a particular exterior shot (I won’t describe its contents, as it’s a bit of a spoiler) of snow falling outside of a bar is really great looking. Hell, that whole scene is great, in terms of how much of a serious impact it has on the rest of the film, yet it does it in such a subdued way that it doesn’t really make you feel the strength of it…which may also be a weakness of the scene as well, depending on how you look at it. In any case, the film looks great and the accompanying Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix is nicely done as well, although it being a dialogue driven film, there’s not much to glean from the surrounds (except for some gunfire occasionally and maybe some music). Also included are English SDH subtitles…no alternate language audio or subtitles available, however.
Extras include a Commentary with Writer/Director Brian Goodman and Writer Donnie Wahlberg which sheds a ton of light on the production of this film and its origins. I was genuinely surprised to see that Wahlberg had written it, as he hasn’t been in a whole lot and his cameo in the film was barely recognizable. Hell, I actually cringed when I saw he wrote it because I thought it’d be something horrible, but…I was genuinely surprised. I think I’m more impressed by how much the film didn’t disappoint than I am with the film itself. Goodman and Wahlberg make for an informative and enlightening track and the fact both of them are both actors (and acted in the film) adds a whole other layer to peel through as well.
Next up is a selection of Deleted and Alternate Scenes (15:35, SD) and a quick Makes You Stronger: The Making of (18:55, SD). There are also some BD-Live extras planned (likely a trailer), but it wasn’t available as of this writing.
Overall a decent film with adequate extras (really, for a film that was as under promoted as this, the fact there’s a commentary is actually kind of surprising) and one that’s still Recommended. Not brilliant and it’s slightly reminiscent of other movies I’ve seen lately (that may just be Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead I’m thinking of, however, as I think that opened with Hawke robbing someone too), but, again, still worth seeing once.
What Doesn’t Kill You arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on April 28th.