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Dark Country (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/6/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/11/2009

Actors turned directors are an interesting lot. As everyone in Hollywood aspires to direct (or so the story goes), there are plenty who think that they are undeserving of this position. But, if you think about it, it makes sense. If you spend your career watching someone else do something, it's not irrational to assume that you could do it to. And there is certainly a checklist of actors who have proven their merit as directors: Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall, etc. The latest to throw their hat is Thomas Jane, who brings us the film-noir Dark Country.

As Dark Country opens, we are introduced to Richard (Thomas Jane) and Gina (Lauren German), a couple spending their first night together after meeting and getting married in Las Vegas. They leave their motel and begin a drive across the desert to Richard's home in Sedona. While driving, they talk about their route, their likes and dislikes, and they then engage in some newlywed hi-jinks in the car. They suddenly come across a man in the road who has been in a car accident. Confirming that the man is alive, they load him in the back of the car and venture to get help. The man awakens, and begins to say some very strange things. Then, Richard realizes that they are completely lost...and that there are no longer any other cars on the road. Lost in a dark wasteland with a bleeding man in the backseat, Richard and Gina begin to realize that their impromptu honeymoon has taken a very nasty turn.

I always try to say something nice about each movie that I review, no matter how bad it is. (Note, I wrote that I try to say something nice. I don't always succeed.) The second half of Dark Country is pretty interesting. What has seemed like a fairly normal movie which is going to explore the lives of these two people who have gotten married and now must get to know one another, slowly turns into something more ominous. With each progressing scene, the movie lives up to its title by becoming darker and darker. We are along for the ride, as it were, with Richard and Gina as they try to cope with the odd things which are happening around them.

Having said that, the first half of Dark Country is incredibly boring. The movie starts off very slowly and doesn't gain any momentum for a very long time. They don't know each other, and we don't know them, and suddenly we're trapped in a car with them. We listen to them talk, play with the radio, argue about directions, and then get frisky. Does this part of the movie contain the best "masturbating with an ice cube while driving across the desert" scene that I've ever witnessed? Sure it does, that doesn't make up for the fact that Jane and screenwriter Tab Murphy do nothing to draw us into the story. The idea of this couple waking up after a drunken wedding isn't very appealing, and then learning that we are simply going to watch them in a car is even worse. This concept probably could work, but there's nothing interesting about these people or what they are saying.

So, based on what I've said thus far, you're impression of Dark Country is that the beginning is dull, but the second half is pretty good. Well, a more accurate report would be - the first half is dull and the second half is unoriginal. Apparently, Jane and Murphy either haven't seen (or don't care about) Rest Stop (or it's sequel) or the incredibly effective Dead End. (When is that movie going to hit Blu-ray Disc?) Once the plot begins to change in the second act, I knew exactly where it was going having seen those two films. These was a disappointment, as the movie was showing signs of life and then I felt that I'd seen it before. The EC Comics ending does nothing for the movie.

But, I'm sure the biggest question here is, "How was Thomas Jane's direction?" Actually, I would have to say that it's quite bold. Perhaps due to the fact that the film is so short on story, Jane hasn't backed down from pulling out many cinematic tricks and the first two scenes contain elaborate camera moves. The scenes of the passengers in the car are all done by green-screen, giving us an otherworldly feel. While the visual style was surprising, Jane simply can't overcome the pacing or plot problems in the script. (I've read that the movie was mean to be shown in 3-D. Now that would be interesting.)

Dark Country really needs a better map on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no defects from the source material. The movie was shot on HD equipment and the few daytime shots look great. However, some of the nighttime scenes are overly dark, even for a movie which is meant to be dark. There are trace elements of artifacting. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The sound mix makes great use of car sounds and we get nice stereo and surround effects when the car passes by on-screen. The big action scene at the end provides a very nice cocktail of stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects.

The Dark Country DVD contains just two extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Actor Thomas Jane, Writer Tab Murphy, and Producer Patrick Aiello. This is a pretty good commentary. If you watch The Soup, then you know that Jane can be a bit...different...in interviews, but he does a fine job here, describing shooting styles, locations, and the story. He's also pretty open about how he feels about particular scenes. "Journey to Dark Country" (11 minutes) is a featurette where Lauren German, Ron Perlman, and several crew members discuss the story, the working conditions and the look of the film. The interesting thing about this piece is that Thomas Jane is nowhere to be found.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long