Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Gummer, Joan Cusack, Ron Livingston, Mickey Sumner
Written by: Donald Margulies, based on a book by David Lipsky
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references
Running Time: 106
Date: 07/31/2015

The End of the Tour (2015)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Straight Talk

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

An expert at potent, intimate character dramas, director James Ponsoldt (Smashed, The Spectacular Now) tops himself with this brilliant, intuitive examination of a unique working friendship.

In 2008, Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) hears the news of the suicide of author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). He remembers back to 1996, when he stumbled upon Wallace's game-changing novel Infinite Jest and convinced his editor to let him to a cover story on its author.

The two men spend five days together at the end of Wallace's book tour, covering topics ranging from fame and literature to fast food and Alanis Morrisette. In their time together, they seem to grow closer, but the business of the interview always intrudes. Perhaps in other circumstances, they could have been close friends, but for now it's up to Lipsky to decide how to portray this fascinating, complex artist.

Working from an adapted screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, The End of the Tour creates uncanny intimacy and subtle tension between two men, both writers but hardly equals. Scenes of direct questioning can be revealing, but the downtimes, i.e. talking about food or smoking, are especially powerful. Other scenes deconstruct the interview process and the strange dynamic between an interviewer and his subject.

Though Jason Segel has the showier role, he and Jesse Eisenberg are evenly matched — and exemplary (with a hilarious Joan Cusack in a small role). The movie's situation may not be familiar to many moviegoers, but these two actors explore complex connections, making the experience a profoundly human one. It's a great journalism movie, and a great movie, period.

Lionsgate released a decent Blu-ray edition with some very good extras: a 24-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that appears to have been filmed by a person and not the studio; a commentary track with Ponsoldt, Segel, and Margulies; deleted scenes (7 minutes); an interview with composer Danny Elfman; and trailers.

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