Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Return to Paradise (1998)

An inventive and profound modern day morality tale ...

This is a wonderfully creative movie, with top-notch directing and award caliber performances by a talented cast. The premise is a fairly simple one. Three young men, Sheriff (Vincent Vaughn), Tony (David Conrad), and Louis (Joaquin Phoenix), who previously didn't know one another, team up in Malaysia and party hearty. They have fun drinking, smoking hashish, and picking up girls. Sheriff and Tony head back to the states, leaving Louis behind, as he has a wildlife conservation idea involving orangutans that he wishes to pursue while in Malaysia. Before they go, Sheriff makes it a point to leave his dope stash in the house in which Louis is remaining. Later, the police come to search the premises on a matter unrelated to the dope stash. When they find it, however, they arrest Louis, who literally has been left holding the bag.

Two years later, Anne Heche enters the picture as a lawyer, ostensibly working on behalf of her client, Louis. She seeks out Sheriff and Tony with a proposition. It seems that while Sheriff and Tony have been getting on with their lives, Louis has been rotting in a Malaysian prison for the past two years and living in sheer terror. You see, Louis is scheduled to be executed in eight days as a drug dealer, as the amount of dope that had been left behind and discovered by the police was just over a threshold amount that would classify it as being for distribution, rather than for personal use. The only hope Louis has of staying alive is if Sheriff and Tony go back to Malaysia to take responsibility for their part in this and serve three years each. If only one returns, then the sole returnee faces six years. Will it be all for one and one for all? Will Louis live to personally thank his friends? Watch the movie and find out.

Vince Vaughn as Sheriff gives a compelling performance. Playing the quintessential Everyman, he struggles with his moral obligation. It is strictly a moral one, as legally he can just sit by and do nothing. Tony, too, undergoes some soul searching. They finally both come to the same conclusion, or do they? The dilemma that they face is an excruciatingly personal one. The movie builds up to a level of suspense that is totally unexpected. There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix, one of the finest young actors of his generation, gives a performance that will haunt the viewer for days. Anne Heche also give a noteworthy performance, intense and relentless in her quest to save what life Louis has left. Jada Pinkett also gives a strong performance as a news reporter who is interested in the story. Her interjection into the movie brings into the forefront the issue of the responsibility of the press. When you see this movie, you will understand what this means.

This film is excellent on all fronts. The only weakness was an unnecessary subplot, which involved a blossoming romance between Sheriff and the character played by Anne Heche. Were it not for this digression, I would have given the movie five stars. It is an otherwise profoundly moving film that deserves to be seen. By Lawyeraau


Return to Paradise (1998) Trailer

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