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Review: ‘The Details’ Could Have Used a Lot More Devil In It

By  · Published on November 12th, 2012

Hollywood does not look favorably upon suburbia.

It’s understandable of course, what with all the illusory perfection and white picket fences, but from Little Children to American Beauty to Home Alone we’ve seen time and again that surface innocence hides infidelity, unhappiness and abandoned children setting deadly traps made from household items.

That trend continues with Tobey Maguire’s latest film where he plays Jeff Lang, a man who seems to have it all. A beautiful wife, a healthy little boy, a job and a home in the suburbs… what more could he want? But when a raccoon starts digging holes in his perfect back yard a chain of events is set in motion that threatens it all.

The links in that chain, henceforth known as the details, are a mix of the mundane and the ridiculous, and almost without exception they see Lang behaving like a complete and utter bastard. There are laughs along the way, but as one bad domino after another falls before him he grows further and further away from a believable character we can relate to, and therein lay the film’s biggest issue. Things become a bit too outrageous and Maguire’s dueling expressions of surprise and bemusement aren’t enough to carry viewers along.

Lang and his wife (Elizabeth Banks) are discussing the possibility of having a second child, but while she repeatedly finds excuses to avoid having the sex required he retires to his computer to satisfy his late night porn addiction. He also lets himself fall into a friend’s vagina, and when the eccentric neighbor (Laura Linney) discovers his secret infidelity the situation grows even more elaborate and morally challenged.

Lang it seems is a real tool. The only ray of light in his obnoxious and deceitful personality is in his relationship with a casual friend played by Dennis Haysbert. Lang helps him out career-wise, but more importantly he makes a grand and selfless gesture for the man expecting nothing in return. It’s a remarkably kind act, which, in the spirit of everything else in Lang’s life leads to even more terrible consequences.

The cast is the film’s highpoint as all involved do a fine enough job with the material given them. Ray Liotta is a standout as the man married to Lang’s partner in infidelity, but most of the actors aren’t really given enough heavy lifting to do. Instead of being allowed to react appropriately and effectively to situations the characters reach too frequently for attempts at humor. What could have been a deliriously twisted dark comedy instead becomes a broad comedy sharing screen-time with disassociated dramas.

Writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes has crafted a tale with some heavy moral complications, but they’re played too lightly and occasionally poorly to have the desired effect. Dark happenings are afoot, but misguided laughs are forced front and center when we should be growing more immersed in and affected by what’s happening onscreen. Linney’s character in particular seems terribly out of place with behaviors that bypass believable on their way toward eccentric, and while the acting is fine the writing leaves her dangling on a few occasions.

Still, more than a few laughs do hit home as events spiral and reactions become suitably ridiculous. The best ones carry a tinge of uncertainty and danger about them, and it’s no surprise that those often come from Liotta’s character. The man can play unhinged and maniacal in his sleep.

The Details offers up some fine actors and a few laughs, but events and actions that should make viewers cringe beneath the weight instead make us feel indifferent. It’s less of a black comedy than a dark-white comedy, and that doesn’t even make sense.

The Upside: The cast is appealing; some laughs; Liotta and Haysbert are both quite good

The Downside: Most of the humor falls flat or misses the mark; the story turns get a bit ridiculous; story not allowed to get as dark as it truly is

On the Side: James McAvoy was originally cast in the lead role

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.