Tell-Tale (2009)

MARCH 22, 2010


Have you ever watched The Crow and thought: “This would be better if, instead of Eric coming back to life, they took his heart and gave it to a guy who needed a new one, and then that guy got all of the revenge for him”? If so, then Tell-Tale is the movie for you. Beat for beat, it’s the same damn movie, right down to the final battle being against a guy who wasn’t directly involved with the murder of him and his wife. Four bad guys, a helpful cop who buys into the supernatural aspects of the situation rather quickly, lots of POV flashbacks to the murder... it’s kind of astonishing.

But it’s a watchable, fairly decent movie at least (unlike any Crow sequel). The crime doesn’t really make a lot of sense once the truth about it is revealed, and the final “twist” is just grim for the sake of being grim, but it’s engaging and fast-paced, and offers more characterization than we usually get in these sort of revenge films. Josh Lucas is a good choice for the role; like Cary Elwes back in the day, he’s at best when playing “grey area” characters instead of full blown heroes or any sort of villain. Here, he’s the guy you’re rooting for, but he’s also murdering folks in cold blood who technically never did him any wrong. If it was Brad Pitt, you’d never think much of his murdering ways. Likewise, if it was, I dunno, Peter Greene, you’d spend the whole movie wondering why he wasn’t in jail. Lucas toes the line between sympathetic and intimidating perfectly.

And you can’t go wrong with Bryan Cox as the weary cop who seems to be supporting Lucas’ vendetta (you know, like Ernie Hudson). Cox has played so many villains, it’s great to see him in a more sympathetic role (and funny as well - the film is rather cold and clinical, but he earns a few chuckles with some throwaway dialogue here and there). Lena Headey is also on board, but as with most of her non-action performances, she seems to be a bit mis-cast. Plus, a beautiful, successful woman - why is she seemingly desperate and lonely? Not saying that all beautiful and successful women should be married/engaged by default, but it would help if they could offer some explanation for why Lucas is her only option.

Now, the big selling point of the film is that it’s based on the Poe story, but it’s a very flimsy connection at best (he’s not even mentioned in the credits; no “Based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe” or whatever). Basically, it’s about a beating heart (and it’s set in Rhode Island) but otherwise has no discernible relation to Poe; it’s about as much of a “re-imagining” of his story as Untamed Heart. And I might be wrong (been years), but I thought the “beating” in the Poe tale was in the guy’s head, however there is no other explanation for it here - the heart has possessed Lucas and is leading him to the guys who killed its owner. Some ambiguity in this department might have improved things.

Speaking of Rhode Island, one thing I really liked is that there were a lot of visible Massachusetts plates in the movie (even on a car that plays a big part in a certain scene). It added some realism - in RI, you WOULD see a lot of MA plates, something that usually escapes set decorators. It’s a nice little detail, though I might have missed it entirely if the transfer was any worse. For a company called Genius, they seem to be kind of dumb when it comes to transferring for Blu-ray. Everything is way washed out; actual black doesn’t appear anywhere in the film, just bluish gray. Details aren’t the best either - for the first time in the 3+ years I’ve owned my TV, I actually fiddled with my picture settings in an attempt to make a particular disc look better. I haven’t watched it yet, but I hope to hell they didn’t do this bad of a job with Halloween II - the movie was practically ALL black, so I don’t want to be looking at a murky cloud the entire time.

There are no extras whatsoever on the disc, not even a trailer (making the poor transfer even more frustrating - it’s not like they didn’t have room on the disc). The compact length (90 minutes) and “huh?” worthy producing team of Ridley and Tony Scott would suggest there was plenty of deleted footage and behind the scenes stuff, but I guess not.

Good rental though. It’s a serviceable thriller with a few good performances, some odd quirks (is this the first horror/thriller movie in which a little girl suffered from a rare bone disease that I can't even begin to try to spell correctly? I think someone was watching House, M.D.), and some occasional shocking violence for the gorehounds. I won’t remember a thing about it in a week or so, but I didn’t hate myself for watching it either. Your call.

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