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With: Denis Leary, Hope Davis, J.C. MacKenzie, Jim Gaffigan, Jim Hornyak, Maureen Anderman, Marin Hinkle, Madison Arnold, Caroline Kava, Christina Kirk
Written by: Bruce McIntosh
Directed by: Campbell Scott
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 111
Date: 06/08/2001
IMDB

Final (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Puzzle Box

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The thing about puzzle-box movies, as Roger Ebert recently called them, is that they should make sense when you go back over them. 2001's best puzzle-box movies, Memento and Mulholland Drive, fascinate from every possible angle. Vanilla Sky and its predecessor Open Your Eyes make sense in one direction -- when you get to the twist ending and look back upon all the events that led up to it. But sometimes a puzzle-box movie throws in a twist ending that doesn't make logical sense. The recent Planet of the Apes remake attempted a twist ending that baffled most science-fiction fans. And though the new film Final offers more in the way of intelligence than that would-be summer blockbuster, it fares about the same in puzzle-box logic.

Final marks the solo directorial debut by Campbell Scott, following his 1996 collaboration with Stanley Tucci, Big Night. Shot on digital video, Final stars Denis Leary as Bill, an inmate at a mental institution, and Hope Davis as Ann, his attending nurse. We learn that Bill crashed his truck in a quarry somewhere and woke up here. He's also a blues guitarist, a gimmick that provides the film with a nifty score. He ruminates over a lost love and believes he's going to face a lethal injection. Ann seems to be growing attached to the lively Bill and ponders whether or not to help him and tell him the truth about his situation.

I'm also pondering whether or not to tell the truth here. I've noticed that several other reviews blatantly give away the movie's big twist -- the otherwise dependable Village Voice among them -- but I'd hate to deprive viewers of the movie's biggest pleasure. So I won't. I will say, however, that once we learn the truth, the entire story makes no sense. Ann and her colleagues have absolutely no reason to incarcerate Bill and lie to him. The reason he's there has very little to do with keeping him happy and unconscious of the truth.

Other than that, the film chugs along, ripping through the spongy script with sharp performances by Davis (also in Hearts in Atlantis) and Leary (has any other recent comedian-turned-actor showed more promise than Leary?).

As we would expect, director Scott's strongest suit seems to be guiding his actors. The digital video becomes problematic in Leary's small hospital room, where at least half the film takes place. The camera's small microphone can't overcome the echo of the room, and the sound becomes abrasive at times. Likewise, the colors seem bland and glaring, which suits the subject matter but also leaves the viewer with a dull taste afterward. (At least Vanilla Sky was filled with dazzling colors and exuberant songs.) In the end, Final simply doesn't have much going for it. But with a budget less than $100,000, at least it didn't put too serious a dent in anybody's wallet.

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