"Pay It Forward" was one of those movies that seemed to divide both audiences and critics into two catagories - those who loved and were deeply moved by the experience of viewing it and those who seemed to downright hate the film. Some critics who were previously rather mild-mannered suddenly showed a previously unseen rage.
After viewing it, I found that it is not a film without some concerns and flaws, but the majority of it remained an enjoyable if somewhat forgetable feel-good picture from talented director Mimi Leder ("Deep Impact"). The film stars Haley Joel Osment, who rocketed to fame in "The Sixth Sense" as Trevor Osment, a young lad who, like many children each day, finds himself in his first day of school. His first class is taught by Mr. Simonet, a man whose face is scarred by burns, and whose intensity draws in Trevor's interest. The teacher gives the children an assignment for the semester - think of an idea that will change the world. Not a simple task, to be sure, but Trevor sets about it - starting small and then going forward.
The child's idea is, well, forward-thinking, if not terribly realistic. Do something nice for three people, and have those three people do something nice for three additional people. I doubt it would ever work in real life, but it's a fine start for a film. Trevor starts off helping a homeless person named Jerry, but going further by helping his alcoholic mother Arlene (Helen Hunt) and teacher in their lives by putting them together. Meanwhile, in a future thread that runs along side, a newspaper reporter (Jay Mohr) follows up on the story after the chain reaches him.
There's a lot of highs and lows to the performances. Osment is a fine young actor who does well with the part. Spacey - well, Kevin Spacey really can't be bad in any part - and continues that streak here. Helen Hunt is a likable actor and has demonstrated fine work in several recent roles, but she simply can't get out from under a unsympathetic character here; she's a fine actress but wrong for the role. Mohr is his usual smirky self as the reporter; it's a role he practically owns, and does it respectably well again here.
Ah, and yes, the acting is good, but there's a point in the review where I must discuss the faults, and here it goes. Leder is not a director who has shown a talent for being subtle and that continues here. With a film like this, you must stay behind the "line" and not reach over to manipulate the audience - Leder steps over the line quite a few times and some of the scenes seem a bit too much like Oscar advertisements. The film starts off rather promisingly before heading into soap opera country, making a wrong decision with the ending. At a little over two hours, the running time could have been taken down a few notches.
I haven't read the novel, myself, so I can't say for sure, but the picture seems to be an instance of a novel getting rather weakly adapted for the screen and a director who went a little too far with the drama. The picture is generally very well-acted, but it's unfortunate that the talent around them couldn't have provided better surroundings.
VIDEO: "Pay It Forward" is presented in the film's 1.85:1 aspect ratio and it is anamorphic. It's a very good presentation, but in comparison to other recent titles out of Warner Brothers, it comes up as slightly lacking. Sharpness and detail are usually good, although there were some scenes in interior settings that appeared slightly softer. Many of the brighter outdoor sequences were visibly crisp and well-defined, most even displaying a solid amount of depth.
Some little things separated it from the kind of quality that the studio usually offers. Although not a problem that ran throughout the entire film, infrequently some print flaws did appear. Nothing enormous, but simply some speckles and slight marks. A little bit of light edge enhancement was visible once or twice, but there wasn't anything in the way of pixelation.
Colors were nicely rendered and pleasing. There were some Las Vegas scenes that did a great job of showing the bright lights and neon colors, but many others kept the color palette more realistic and natural. Still, although a very fine effort from Warner, several minor flaws keep it from being as impressive as some of their other recent titles.
SOUND: "Pay It Forward" is a dialogue-driven feature, and as such, there really is hardly any activity to the sound presentation. Thomas Newman's score drifts through the room, sounding clear and crisp; it's really the only element that is taken beyond the front speakers, if only to be very lightly offered by the surrounds at times. Surrounds are otherwise completely silent, and the picture often folds up to simply dialogue.
MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, but Newman's score plays out in the background.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Mimi Leder. Leder is good natured and informative during this track, welcoming the viewer in the begining and offering her thoughts on the idea of "paying it forward" as well as the production in general. There's a bit of space between comments, but Leder generally offers quality information and doesn't resort too often to simply telling us what's currently going on in the story. Some slow moments, but overall, if you're interested in learning more about the film, it's worth a listen. It would have been nice if Leder was paired up with another participant who could have filled in the gaps of silence that come up throughout the track.
HBO First Look: This is a documentary about the making of the film, and as a promotional documentary, it's actually not too bad. Yes, it does offer clips and the usual interviews, but the interviews are at least moderately interesting and do expand occasionally outwards from just the basics of the story.
Also: Trailer (1.85:1/2.0) and cast/crew bios.
Final Thoughts: "Pay It Forward" is a rather manipulative, but well-acted feature that, while I didn't completely dislike it, didn't provide a very memorable experience either. Warner's DVD provides very good video and average audio quality, along with a few solid supplemental features. Those who did like the film will enjoy the DVD edition.
The Film ** 1/2
Video 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Audio: 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Extras: 80/B- = (240/300 possible points)
Menus: 80/B- = (160/200 possible points)
Value: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B