R Dir: Alexander Payne | Paramount | 2h 15min
Plot: What’s it about?
Over the last couple decades, Alexander Payne has made some great films. They’re character-driven and memorable. He’s tackled issues in them, mainly with his first outing: Citizen Ruth. He gained more notoriety with 2000’s Election and continued that trend with follow-up films like Sideways, About Schmidt and The Descendants. Looking at Downsizing, it had everything right on paper. You’ve got a film led by Matt Damon, who handled The Martian with seemingly relative ease and, of course, Payne. What could go wrong? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. The film has a great premise that ultimately loses itself about halfway through. What happened?
Damon plays Paul Safranek, someone who’s probably spent the better part of his life correcting people on how to pronounce his name. He once had aspirations of being a surgeon, but his mother’s health lead him astray. He works as an Occupational Therapist for a less-than-desirable income at Omaha Steaks. He and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) can’t ever seem to get ahead in life. This might all change, though, when a new technology called “downsizing” is introduced to the world. Normal adults are literally reduced to mere inches and with the smaller footprint, a moderate family can live a life of luxury in one of many resorts. Paul and Audrey take the plunge only Audrey bails at the last minute, leaving Paul alone, broke and 5 inches tall.
Paul manages to eek out a living by working as a telephone operator for Land’s End (one of the many product placements found in the film), though he looks at his life and wonder what’s really changed. His upstairs neighbor, Dusan (Christoph Waltz) has found a way to make money in the “small world” and it’s also there where Paul meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a political rebel who’s been shrunk by her home country. Hobbling around on one leg and cleaning apartments of the wealthy just to get by. From there, well, things get a bit weird and I won’t tell you what happens because it neither makes sense and totally derails the film. So…what happened?
In short (sorry, I couldn’t resist) the premise for the film is ingenious and I’d like to say “…in the right hands” but I think it was in the right hands. This could have easily been one of the standout films of 2017. There are big names attached like Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick-Harris, Laura Dern and Kristen Wiig, but they’ve got about 10 minutes of screen time – max. It’s all Damon’s film with some well-deserved help from Christoph Waltz, who delivers the film’s best performance. The film can’t decide what it wants to be or what it wants to say and, ultimately, we’re the ones who pay the price. Lastly, at 135 minutes, it’s one that’ll have you checking your watch as the final act drags on and on.
Video: How’s it look?
Paramount’s 4K presentation of the film looks the part and the image rarely misses. Sadly, Damon’s once golden locks have been replaced by shorter, thinning and greying hair and he’s not the young buck we saw in films like Good Will Hunting or Rounders. That aside, the visual effects seem natural and work well in the image. The final act takes them across the globe to Norway, or at least I think it’s Norway, it might be some other picturesque location. The increased color depth of the Ultra HD image adds a bit more to this version over its Blu-ray counterpart.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The same DTS HD Master Audio track on the Blu-ray can be found here and as disappointing as it is not to have a next generation track, it might have been wasted. Aside from a party scene at Dusan’s place, there really isn’t a lot of call for dynamic sound. There are some passing directional effects, but the majority of the film is dialogue-driven, as are all of Payne’s. It’s a bit disappointing when the extra money is used for a 4K version and you don’t get a lot in return. Then again, the same might be said for the film.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Working with Alexander – The actors discuss what it’s like working with the acclaimed director.
- The Cast – Basically the same as above, only the compliments flow towards the actors.
- A Visual Journey – We get a good look at the visual design, what it took to make the place look “tiny” and some various tips and filmmaking tricks.
- A Matter of Perspective – Piggybacking onto the above feature, we get a more technical look at how the visual effects were achieved.
- That Smile – Matt Damon and his “classic good looks” are featured.
- A Global Concern – To its credit, the film does raise a pretty valid point about the environment, and we get a bit more information with this feature.
The Bottom Line
Downsizing is a rare misfire for both Damon and Payne. They’ve both done great work in the past and I’m sure they’ll continue to do it in the future. The film had a great idea and it started off with a very promising concept, but it just lost momentum and lacked direction. It continued to skew from tangent to tangent and lacked any discernible meaning. Simply put, they just didn’t know how to end it. Paramount’s 4K disc looks and sounds fine and the standard offering of supplements doesn’t hurt, but this one is only for the die-hards.