Review – The Details (2011)

Director: Jacob Aaron Estes

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Elizabeth Banks, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Kerry Washington

DetailsSometimes things can snowball. You can start a series of events in motion and before you realise, the situation has got away from you. For mild-mannered Dr. Jeffrey Lang, this starting point is his decision to go ahead with an extension to his house without the required council permits. Before he knows it his life has spiralled into a mess of cat-killing, infidelity, and ultimately murder.

 The Details is a hyperbolic tale of the dark side of suburbia, a place in which not everything is as it seems and you never know what is hiding behind the pleasant veneer of middle class family life. In this regard, Tobey Maguire is well cast as Jeffrey. Maguire’s baby-faced appearance and nice guy persona – which served him so well as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby – here combine well with Dr. Lang’s congenial, friendly presentation to disguise and contrast the darker aspects of his character.

Where The Details is most interesting is in the way that it challenges mainstream cinema’s usual dichotomy of good and evil in which bad people do bad things because they are bad and good people do good things because they are good. Instead The Details shows us bad people capable of doing very good things and good people capable of doing very bad things, so that when it all comes down to it no one is bad and no one is good, they are all just people.

What is notably missing from the film, however, is any form of ramification for bad deeds committed. That one thing can snowball into another and Jeffrey can find himself in a worse and worse predicament is one thing, but that there never appears to be any negative consequence or backlash for him personally makes the film unsatisfying.

The Details is a tonally odd film, with a campy style that seems to stifle the effectiveness of its thematic message. Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes has given the film a light and breezy comic tone which juxtaposes its quite dark story. The result of this juxtaposition is a film that is quite difficult to know how to react to. You can’t bring yourself to laugh because the events are a bit too tragic, but at the same time you can’t completely empathise because the tone is too campy.

Rating – ★★☆

Review by Duncan McLean

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