Any Cameron Crowe film defies conventional criticism by bathing the viewer in an overabundance of subjectivity. From his directorial debut in 1989 straight through to today, Crowe has always aimed to make films that touched each person where it counted most personally and intimately for them. Judging the degree to which this is accomplished for the average person is somewhere between difficult and useless. Now, some might argue that this theory could apply to movies and critics as a whole but, for me at least, Crowe’s films in particular have always seemed more than a little exempt from the normal standards of quality and excellence we routinely filter other movies through. When Elizabethtown was released, it was met with a resounding critical groan that almost threatened to momentarily take the wind out of my sails, and I counted myself amongst the director’s most dedicated loyalists. It was more than a little disheartening, especially after the critical split over Vanilla Sky that left many of us scratching our heads after Cameron’s decade-long run of near-perfection. But as tentative as I was, I chose to keep the faith and go see the film anyway. I came away completely happy and slapped myself for doubting one of my favorite film-makers. I couldn’t understand why so many people detested this one so much.
Then again, we’re now living in the age of the mindless, minimalistic blockbuster. There’s little room left for movies that have a purpose aside from lambasting evil conservative administrations or advancing social agendas of some type. Personally, I found this film to be a breath of fresh air after all I’d seen in the last year. With virtually everything being granted a hidden subtext by movie critics these days, and most of them unwarranted in this author’s opinion, I simply think that most found this film hollow in the absence of controversy. It follows the simple story of Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a man who has just failed miserably at life and would just as soon take the easy way out than live to fight another day. A call from his sister sends Drew to Kentucky instead to deal with the sudden death of his father, Mitch. Along the way there’s an unconventional romance with a stewardess (Kirsten Dunst) and various off-the-wall encounters with Mitch’s family and friends. There’s not much more to the story than that, and really, it’s best to go into the film knowing as little as possible to get the most out of it. This isn’t a movie about prose. It’s about what you bring with you. But then, that’s why I love Crowe’s films in the first place: they’re interactive.
If it seems I’ve marginalized the events of the movie here, there is a good reason. Where I think the point of this movie got lost on its detractors is in its simple, sweet nature. There’s a lot going on in the film but, as all Cameron Crowe fans know, his films are about individual moments and not about their points per se, and on that level, the films delivers in spades. There are glances and brief moments of silence that rival the best that Crowe has ever done on display here. The music has even been cited as a problem this time around, with some calling it overkill and self-indulgence. Never minding that Crowe last two films both had more music than this one does, when does self-indulgence describe a maturing director who’s not afraid to embrace his own style? I think it’s a testimony to how much Crowe understands the function of music (at least for some of us) that he is so liberal in his use of it. And waver though his American accent may at times, I also have to rush to Orlando Bloom’s defense in this case. The movie stays grounded because it’s told almost exclusively through his eyes and, without that connection we have to Drew (and without a good actor breathing life into his lost soul), the film could have easily tanked. Personally, I don’t think it did. I just think that Cameron Crowe’s heart may finally have grown too big for the cynical world Jerry Maguire warned us we were living in.
Video: How does it look?
Elizabethtown didn’t really look that bad, even upon its initial DVD release. Paramount has given the film a new restoration and, as expected, the image is near-reference quality in its own, subdued way. Much like the film itself, this is more impressive in its subtlety than the in-your-face perfection of some other transfers. Contrast levels are pitch-perfect, sharpness and shadow detail are superb, and I couldn’t find any edge-enhancement at all. There’s no grain, no jittering, and no hue problems, either. In fact, for a film drenched in this many unremarkable Earth tones, this is a spectacular effort for its absence of distractions alone.
Audio: How does it sound?
Once again, the analogy stands. The new DTS HD Master Audio track included here is incredibly immersive and effective. This isn’t a “sound film” by any means, but if you prefer ambient, subtle envelopment, this track is right up there with the best. Much has been said about Crowe’s use of music to tell his stories, and each track comes through with pleasing clarity and just the right amount of emotional punch to drive the picture. Dialogue is always intelligible and the country atmosphere of the film is perfectly captured in the nuances of the mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Paramount has added a couple of new supplements as is consistent with their Paramount Presents line, and the legacy supplements have made the leap as well.
Filmmaker Focus: Cameron Crowe on Elizabethtown – As is consistent with the other entries in the Paramount Presents line of films, director Cameron Crowe gives us a new introduction as well as his personal thoughts on the film.
Deleted and Extended Scenes – Eight are included with an introduction by Crowe.
The Shoes They Wear
A Student of Phil
Chuck Moves Back the Reception
Rusty’s Learning to Listen Part 8
Chuck and Cindy are Less Than Pleased
It’s Only a Funeral
Hanging with Russell in Memphis
On the Road to Elizabethtown – The cast and crew give us the skinny on the film, its origins and what’s been pulled out of Crowe’s life that made in on screen. It’s a nice piece, though seems a bit dated now.
The Music of Elizabethtown – Anyone who loves Crowe’s films knows that music is always a big part of them, this gives us some insight into what songs made the final cut.
Training Wheels – Essentially just series of video clips from the set against the backdrop of an impromptu performance of “Same In Any Language”, a song Crowe and his wife Nancy Wilson wrote for the film.
Meet the Crew – Virtually the same thing as above, though it’s set to a piece of score music.
The Bottom Line
Cameron Crowe has given us some amazing films, dating way back to 1989’s Say Anything. Let’s not forget this guy gave us a snapshot of the grunge scene in Singles, showed us the money in Jerry MaGuire, had us all singing along in Almost Famous and showed us that even Tom Cruise can look ugly in Vanilla Sky. Elizabethtown might fall at the bottom of the list when it comes to his previous efforts, but I found it fun to watch again. Let’s not forget that it’s better than Aloha. Then again, that’s not saying much.