Architect (The) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Magnolia Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (8th April 2007).
The Film

"The Architect" started life out as a stage play based in Edinburgh, Scotland and over the course of a decade filmmaker Matt Tauber developed it into a feature film. Throughout the process the material was Americanized and character and motivational changes also followed including a very different ending. The result is a dramatic slice of life that sheds light on social issues, family structure and internal battles with one's station in life be it low income poverty or well-off suburban bliss (if you could call it that).

The film tells the story of architect Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia), Leo lives a comfortable life but is faced with complex family problems including a disconnected and unhappy wife, Julia (Isabella Rossellini), a son, Martin (Sebastian Stan) dealing with his sexuality and unsure about what to do with his life and a daughter, Christina (Hayden Panettiere) who's trying to find adulthood among a household that continually hurts her by the actions of her unhappy mother towards her father. Leo's problems don't end there, he's confronted by Tonya Neeley (Viola Davis) a woman who has recently lost her son to suicide on a mission to clean up the housing projects in which she lives by campaigning to tear it all down and seeks Leo's approval since it would make quite a statement that the original designer of the complex agreed to demolish it.

This film can be categorized as an urban drama, a slice of life that portrays two very different social classes. Slice of life can also be interpreted as a piece of dramatic work in which not much actually happens. "The Architect" is definitely a slow paced film that focuses on the character journeys rather than actually achieving a narrative flow. Each character is searching for answers and it's that journey which is the central driving force of this film. Unfortunately what results is boredom rather than anything intriguing.

There isn't much that can pull this film out of the muck that is it's screenplay, a multiple offender with pacing problems, awkward turns in the second act and other holes scattered around like a virtual minefield. It felt like Tauber wanted to cram in as such 'message' into this film as possible but didn't stop to think of the effect it might have on the final product. There are issues of sexuality that seem out of place both in Leo's son's life and his daughter's. This is the more awkward of the two considering a sub-plot emerges virtually out of nowhere that there might be some father-daughter incest going on. I was also flabbergasted that the filmmaker chose to delve further into three relationships and going absolutely nowhere with them, the first being Martin's relationship with Shawn (Paul James) and the exploration of the possibility of him being gay, the relationship between Leo and his wife which sees Julia share her feelings of unhappiness with Leo and then suddenly disappears from the rest of the film without any explanation and finally a relationship between Christina and Joe (Walton Goggins), a beer delivery guy which seems to serve one purpose: making the audience as uncomfortable as possible.

I also didn't care enough about Leo and his family's lives to be fully invested in this film. There was a clear detachment from the material in the sense that I felt the family were so disconnected from each other it made it hard to care about their plight. Furthermore, the scenes with Leo and his wife, Julia felt forced and stilted which came as a surprised considering the caliber of the acting talent. On the flip-side Viola Davis provided the film's best performance and was in effect the only reason I kept watching. Her situation was very believable; she managed to create a very vulnerable character that did in fact possess strength to deal with the negative aspects of her life. Dealing with her son's death and using that as the driving motivation to actually do something about her neighborhood, a housing project that has become a hotbed for gang activity. Davis manages to capture the sentiment of a wounded mother perfectly.

Unfortunately this wasn't enough to save this film even when you also take into account the interesting visuals presented by Tauber and director of photography John Bailey. I'm unsure what audience would actually appreciate this film, but if you saw it and liked it then good for you.

Video

Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1 this high-definition transfer is 1080i and has been created using MPEG-2 compression. This film was originally shot in HD so this transfer has been created from the original digital source material. The result is a sharp and clean transfer, although I did spot some minor grain/noise but this was never a problem. Colors are well balanced and vivid, especially skin tones which appear natural at all times. I was pleased with the majority of this transfer however some night scenes lack detail. While nowhere near reference quality it's a fairly good effort for this low budget independent film.

Audio

Two audio tracks are include an English DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 track as well as an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view this film with its DTS-HD track. My current home theater set up cannot decode DTS-HD tracks, however the HD tracks are backwards compatible and despite the fact that I cannot listen to this track at its full capability it still stands out over the standard Dolby Digital track. "The Architect" is a drama that doesn't rely heavily on direction effects and an aggressive and dynamic sound mix. This mix in fact can be classified minimalist (but not in the European sense), as a result the sound is very front heavy with very little activity in the surround speakers, and in fact the only activity in the rear speakers was the score. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, otherwise there is nothing much else to comment about regarding this track.
The film also includes optional subtitles in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Magnolia Home Entertainment has include an audio commentary, a TV clip, some deleted scenes and a handful of bonus trailers on this disc. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary with the film's writer/director Matt Tauber, in this track he comments on the decade long development process in adapting the script from the original play as well as the differences between both incarnations of the material. He shed slight on the production process and tends to single out key crew and cast whom he praises continuously. Other areas of conversation include backgrounds on the characters and their motivations among other things. Tauber rarely gets technical choosing to focus on story and character elements mostly.

Next up is "Higher Definition" a TV clip that is dedicated to "The Architect" and runs for 27 minutes 48 seconds. Here we see interviews with cast members Anthony LaPaglia and Viola Davis along with writer/director Matt Tauber. Each participant is interviewed separately. LaPaglia talks about collaborating on film, being in-sync with the director on who the character is, shooting low budget films and their similarities to shooting TV as well as some of the differences. Davis comments on being able to relate to her character and working on independent films as she shares some of her background of growing up poor and the importance of making a better life. Finally director Tauber discusses his attraction to the play and wanting to adapt it for film, Americanizing it and changing certain elements and what the film is really about.

A series of 8 deleted scenes are included in a reel that also includes optional audio commentary by writer/director Matt Tauber, Tauber talks about the scenes and why they were removed. The reel runs for 8 minutes 53 seconds and includes a scene where Tonya's daughter is picked up by her boyfriend (?), and her showing up after her mother's community meeting. We also get some additional dialogue in the diner scene with Joe and Christina and in another scene Joe talks about loving his wife at the gas station. Christina goes back to the bar trying to track down Joe, Christina tries to kill herself by walking into traffic but can't, soon after she finds Joe at the dispatch loading his truck and finally she and Joe ride again on some more deliveries.

Rounding out the extras are some bonus trailers for:

- "The Lost City" which runs for 2 minutes 15 seconds.
- "District B13" which runs for 1 minute 46 seconds.
- "HDNet" promo spot which runs for 31 seconds.

Overall

The Film: D- Video: A Audio: B Extras: B Overall: C-

 


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