Details, The (2012)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Kerry Washington, Ray Liotta, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Sam Trammell, Cathy Vu, Gary Schwartz.

Director: Jacob Aaron Estes
Rating: R (for language, sexual content, some drug use and brief violence.)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $TBD

LD Entertainment, Mark Gordon Productions, The Weinstein Company and RADiUS-TWC.

Written by: Jacob Aaron Estes.
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1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Filmed literally 20 miles from my hometown in nearby Kirkland, Washington, The Details is a bizarre, mean-spirited, yet watchable trainwreck of a dark comedy.  Springboarding off of the premise that a pesky set of raccoons have infiltrated the meticulously landscaped backyard of Jeff and Nealy Lang (Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks), characters unravel and combust, make terrible decisions and spend most of the film trying to cover up or duck away from their awful choices.

Give writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes credit for this: he is a fearless filmmaker.  Whether he is a good storyteller or not is open for discussion but Estes is completely content to push the envelope and try and make us, as viewers, as absolutely uncomfortable as possible.  Reports indicate that Estes lifted portions of his screenplay from events in his own married life.  And if that is the case…then my goodness, what a marriage.

Tobey Maguire’s Jeff is a Seattle-area obstetrician in a sex-free marriage and he and his wife have a two-year old son.  More bitter rivals and roommates than loving companions, Jeff shares his discontent with his friend’s wife and old medical school colleague, Rebecca (Kerry Washington), which results in the two of them consummating their conversation.  When Rebecca informs her husband Peter (Ray Liotta) of the tryst, one relationship falls apart and Peter is looking for his friend, now viewed as a betrayer.

More ugliness pops up.  A nutty neighbor, played with glorious zeal by Laura Linney, is a magnet for trouble that Jeff cannot stay away from until he makes another foolish mistake involving her emotional well-being.  His occasional workout partner and basketball buddy, Lincoln (Dennis Haysbert) seems like the most normal one in the bunch.  When Jeff finally does something good and decent for Lincoln, a gesture a bit over-the-top in its generosity, Lincoln pays his friend back in a most deranged and disturbed way.  Sigh.

I suppose Jacob Aaron Estes is making a statement on the human condition and how people are not always good or bad, but easily manipulative and operating in shades of grey or lighter and darker shades of black.  The problem is that much of The Details feels like all set up with flat execution.  Everything builds a bit more and more crazy, playing only on the extremes, never ultimately paying off, the deplorable actions of the characters coming off as more loathsome and unbelievable than satirically plausible.  There is an energy and biting tone distinctive from other domestic suburban dark comedies.  But as viewers we can only get bit so many times before we start to feel pain, and when Jeff and Nealy have a big blowout argument, screaming, yelling, and letting an entire film’s worth of emotions out, Estes cannot let those moments breathe on their own.  He has to kill a dog during the elongated scene.  Yep.  It’s that kind of movie.

Estes is talented but unlike his powerful 2004 film Mean Creek, he simply loses his way in telling us these Details.  No one is kind, likable, or anyone I would ever want to associate with and for 101 grueling minutes that becomes a problem.  If the devil truly is in these Details, he is as nasty and awful as reported.

SHOULD I SEE IT?
YES
  • Dark, mean-spirited comedies have their fans and The Details clearly meets the challenge in trying to deliver on those promises.
  • There is something to be said about how far this film seems willing to go and how it does not care how likable it really is.
  • Laura Linney is pretty terrific here.
NO
  • There is very little joy to be found here with characters downright cruel to one another, simply because they can be, I suppose?!.
  • Tobey Maguire seems miscast here and I can only think that a plethora of different actors could have enhanced the role and possibly made the film a bit better.
  • Jacob Aaron Estes is talented, but not so much so that he can get away with exorcising his demons on screen.  I hope he has found peace with whatever he is dealing with here.
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