Don McKay

Director: Jake Goldberger
Screenplay: Jake Goldberger
Stars: Thomas Haden Church (Don McKay), Elisabeth Shue (Sonny), Melissa Leo (Marie), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Mel), James Rebhorn (Dr. Lance Pryce), Keith David (Otis Kent), M. Emmet Walsh (Samuel), Bates Wilder (Officer Tierney), Rachel Harker (School Secretary), Stephen Benson (Principal Edwards)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2009
Country: U.S.
Don McKay Blu-Ray
Don McKayJake Goldberger’s directorial debut Don McKay is an offbeat neo-noir that features one of those convoluted scams whose slow and methodical revelation provides a great teal of tense pleasure, but once revealed is so inanely complicated and ridiculous that you have to wonder if it is all a big, Coenesque joke. The tone that Goldberger strikes throughout the film benefits it in this regard, as he pitches the story as a kind of dark comedy of seduction and past secrets flanked by a cast of slightly bizarre supporting characters who seem to have wandered in from a different, much weirder movie.

The titular character, played with stoic world-weariness by Thomas Haden Church, is a high school janitor living in Boston. One day, he receives a letter, and while the contents of it are not immediately divulged, the shocked look on his otherwise placid face tells us all we need to know. He quickly packs a bag and travels by bus to his small hometown in upstate Massachusetts, where he heads directly to the childhood home of Sonny (Elisabeth Shue), his high school sweetheart for whom he has apparently been carrying a torch for 25 years. Sonny had sent him the letter and asked him to come see her because she is dying of a mysterious ailment and she wants to live out the rest of her short life with him. Garbed in a series of curve-hugging slips, the blond-haired Sonny is an obvious siren (a virtual parody of femme fatale clichés), with danger writ large across every inch of her exposed flesh. But Don, who is as impenetrable and pathetic a character as they come, accepts her offer without much fanfare, which is probably a mistake given all that lies in wait for him.

The strange people with whom Sonny surrounds herself should have been Don’s first clue, particularly Marie (Melissa Leo), a severe and rigidly proper woman in the Mrs. Danvers mold whose exact relationship to Sonny (friend? caretaker? jealous lesbian lover?) is left tantalizingly vague. Similarly, Don should have taken note of the arrival of Dr. Lance Pryce (James Rebhorn), Sonny’s personal physician who makes house calls and appears a little too interested in his patient’s well-being. Perhaps these people don’t make much of an impression on Don because it seems like everyone in his hometown is a few degrees off-kilter, from M. Emmet Walsh’s overly chatty (and nosy) cab driver, to Keith David’s Otis Kent, one of Don’s old friends who complains bitterly about his buddy looking him up 25 years later to discuss a dead body, but still shows up in the middle of the night to help him do something about it.

The fact that at least one major character ends up dead fairly early on in Don McKay shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, although most of the eventual revelations as to who is related to whom and who is up to what pack a healthy dose of surprise, even if it never quite adds up. With its limited locations and generally uninspired cinematography (this is a story begging for an outlandish neo-noir look), Don McKay was clearly a low-budget effort, with Goldberger making the most of his eclectic, multi-Oscar-nominated cast to make up for the lack of scope and visual panache, not to mention the sometimes strained machinations of his plot, which hinges on both an overly complex scheme by multiple characters and one character playing along for reasons that may be psychologically sound, but never feels quite real.

Thomas Haden Church, who was originally cast fresh off his Oscar nomination for Sideways (2004) and ultimately became the film’s executive producer, was an intriguing choice to play Don, as his uniquely contoured face makes his character’s constant sense of emotional dislocation all the more captivating. He is dispiritingly bland, but importantly so since he’s playing the straight man to all the loons around him, starting with Elisabeth Shue’s Sonny, who is so hot and bothered with everything she does (she’s like a bad actress in a Tennessee Williams play) that she immediately tips her hand that she’s up to something. In this regard, Don McKay works, as it draws us into its story with relative ease and keeps us absorbed. The film does eventually collapse under its own contrived weight, although it is almost redeemed by both a deliriously tone-shifting climax in which all the characters reveal their true selves and a wonderfully, darkly comical final shot, which neatly summarizes the fatalism of film noir even as it leaves the hero’s future ambiguous.

Don McKay Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.78:1
AudioEnglish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
  • Audio commentary by director Jake Goldberger and producer Jim Young
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • DistributorImage Entertainment
    Release DateJune 29, 2010

    Don McKay is presented in a generally good 1080p high definition transfer in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The transfer handles the film’s relatively muted color palette well and offers good, if not particularly outstanding detail and clarity, which is most likely reflective of the film’s overall soft and restrained look. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is also quite good, with effective use of the surround channels for music presentation and ambient noise, although dialogue can sound a tad muffled at times. Overall, the film’s presentation is more than acceptable for a low-budget, independent production.
    Writer/director Jake Goldberger and producer Jim Young contribute a light-hearted, jokey audio commentary that packs a great deal of information about the film’s production and is suffused with a kind of giddy “I can’t believe we got away with this” glee (and, given the way Goldberger knocks numerous people in the industry, it may his last). The only other supplements on the Blu-Ray disc are several minutes of deleted scenes, most of which detail a small subplot involving Don’s troubles with keeping his job when he wants to go see Sonny, and the original theatrical trailer, all of which are presented in standard definition.

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Image Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (2.5)

    James Kendrick

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