Having just seen 'Evening,' I can’t help but marvel at how any movie starring Vanessa Redgrave, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close and Meryl Streep could suck this bad. Here's a film that seemed to have everything going for it, but ultimately left me feeling absolutely nothing. 'Evening' doesn't work as drama, as a romance, or even a mediocre chick flick. Instead, it's just an impressive collection of marquee names in search of a movie to match.
Based on Susan Minot’s ten-hanky best-seller of the same name, 'Evening' would seem to be a sure-fire recipe for, if not greatness, than at least pleasurable maudlin excess. It tells of the last days of Ann Lord (Redgrave), who spends the course of the story reflecting on one single evening fifty years ago, when she believes she made a unconscionable mistake in love. Growing feverish, she describes the evening in cryptic fashion to her two loving daughters (Collette and Richardson, Redgrave's real-life daughter). In the flashbacks, the young Ann is played by Danes, while her best friend Lila is played by Marnie Gummer, Streep's real-life daughter.
Unfortunately, when we finally meet the two men (Hugh Dancy and Patrick Wilson), who will set the stage for Ann’s mistake, the script makes a crucial misstep. It presents us with nothing of the subsequent fifty years of Ann's life -- not even snapshots -- giving zero emotional weight to Danes' interactions with the men. It's a love story about a pivotal moment, but the film seems to forget to explain to us why it's so pivotal. This makes the time-shifting conceit not only distracting, but annoying, because the flashbacks are actually far less interesting than the present-day material.
When Streep finally enters the picture for a third act of contrition as the older Lila, the film attempts to prepare us for a series of big revelations, but here again, the set-up lacks the emotional weight necessary for a more satisfying payoff. The film only gently taps our cheek with emotion, when it should be punching us in the gut. No matter how flawlessly acted by Streep and Redgrave, the final, concluding moments of the film don't even rate a single tissue.
To be fair, ‘Evening’ isn’t without its virtues. As you would expect from a cast of this caliber, the performances are engaging, while the film’s production values are actually quite stellar. The cinematography by Gyula Pados is particularly gorgeous, with the evening in question bathed in remarkable orange sunsets that are postcard-perfect. The score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, though schmaltzy, has moments of lush beauty, while Lajos Koltai's direction is subtle in terms of balancing performances with style. It's just a shame the script is such an unsuccessful mishmash. It's really saying something when even Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep can't save your movie.
'Evening' hits high-def as a HD DVD/DVD combo, with the HD DVD side featuring a 1080p/VC-1 encode properly framed at the film's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Unfortunately, it is not one of Universal's best efforts for a new release.
Cinematographer Gyula Pados did fine work on the film, but for some reason it just doesn't come through that well on high-def. The film has a somewhat schizophrenic visual personality -- the present-day scenes are rather dark and lacking in definition, while the period material is brighter and more fanciful. Colors in the latter tend to pop, though they are a bit more fuzzy than usual for such a recent title. Detail and depth to the image are only adequate throughout -- again, the brightest scenes have some impact, but contrast can skew a bit too hot, while shadow delineation flattens out in the darker scenes. Edge enhancement is also a nuisance, so the presentation can be both soft and suffering from contrast halos at the same time -- not a great combination. On the bright side, the encode itself isn't bad, with no obvious compression artifacts such as blocking or posterization, though some slight noise is evident at times.
Universal serves up a pair of Dolby TrueHD (48kHz/16-bit) and Dolby Digital-Plus (640kbps) tracks, both in 5.1 surround. The film's sound design mirrors its visuals in that it's decent, but far from impressive.
Simply put, the soundfield rarely comes alive. Surrounds are utilized only sparingly for a few strong discrete effects, and subtle ambiance is almost completely lacking. That's a shame for a dramatic piece like this, which requires atmosphere to truly be involving. Even score bleed never soars. Tech specs are perfectly fine, however, with nice spatiality to the entire frequency spectrum, and low bass that is perfectly fine for material like this. Dialogue is also generally well-balanced, with only some of the quietest bits a bit too receded in the mix for my taste. Finally, I noted no obvious defects to the source, such as dropouts or distorted high-end.
Given 'Evening's poor showing at the box office (it grossed only $12 million domestically), I suppose it's no surprise that Universal has done little to celebrate the film's video release. With no commentary or documentary included, it's up to a couple of featurettes and a batch of deleted scenes to compensate, but this isn’t very exciting stuff.
Given the pedigree of its cast, 'Evening' should have been a chick flick extraordinaire. Instead it's a turgid bore, with unmemorable characters and a dull premise. This HD DVD is fair at best. The video and audio are merely average, while the extras are more of the same. I would suggest a rental for fans of the cast only, just be sure to set your expectations accordingly.