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Environmental activist and poet Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is fighting with department store Huckabees executive Brad Stand (Jude Law) over the exploitation of a piece of land. A series of coincidences lead Albert to the offices of Existential Detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin), who delve into their clients' lives by following them closely, observing the minutiae in their everyday lives. Albert meets Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), another client who is also going through a crisis, and they become friends. Then Brad and his Huckabees poster-girl girlfriend Dawn (Naomi Watts) also become clients, with Dawn questioning the superficial nature of their relationship. Meanwhile, Albert and Tommy meet French novelist and therapist Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), whose methods are totally contrary to those of Bernard and Vivian.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you hold up a blanket (a sheet will do, if you're feeling tired by the weight of life) and look in the mirror, you'll see that everything's connected. The blanket is the universe, that's how and that's why. Your left hand may be way over there, but it's connected to your right. OK, that wasn't a great analogy, because they really are ... Look, this is existential stuff and Dustin Hoffman is better at explaining, in his Bernard persona.

He and his wife Vivian help the likes of environmental activist and poet Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) with problems like coincidence. Albert has seen a tall black dude three times now, all in different circumstances. What does it mean!!?? His brain screams.

Albert and Vivian work the wacky side of the detective street - the existential side. This is where you go to solve life's conundrums about your psyche belching all over you, for instance. These two characters are the high concept part of David O. Russell's outrageously anti-static film. And Hoffman and Tomlin deliver the goods with aplomb and style, a twinkle in their eye and a flash of genius in the presentation.

Among the conflicts in this film are the environment and big business/petroleum products, vanity and generosity, self and society, power and manipulation, and that's before you get to existentialism and the unknowable workings of the universe. But they try....

The humour crackles like static electricity, and the details of the film's production design are entertainment in themselves, such as Albert's study, with its giant blackboard framed like a work of art, because it is...chalk rectangles crammed onto every inch of the surface. Until Albert leans his back on it and the artwork is ghosted onto his jacket.

There are many moments of such double sided humour, and all the performances are fresh, credible and edgy, even when treading on some of the big toes of the human condition - like emotional abandonment (that's a big one, keep an eye out for it).

If you dig the film, you'll dig the DVD extras, from the nicely un-flashy, 30 minute production doco which includes some inevitable back slapping, but also has an irreverence and chaotic sense of being on set. The best part is the cast aren't served up in packaged sound bites but speak freely and openly. Like when Isabelle Huppert praises O'Russell, but also admits that sometimes nobody knows where he's going, but still trust his vision.

Four extended/deleted scenes are included and four outtakes, although the latter are not so much outtakes as repeated takes of parts of four scenes. David O'Russell's commentary is almost whispered, giving it a mood of intimacy, as if we're sharing inner secrets. And in some respects, we are, as he brings to the fore the imagery and symbolism in the film - without being too heavy.

The second track brings in some of the cast: Mark Wahlberg, Jason Schwartzman and Naomi Watts - although they are not all there all the time, and there's been a bit of editing, as O'Russell explains at the beginning. This is a patchy affair, sometimes repetitive of O'Russell's and sometimes a tad flat.

But the overall package is well presented; besides, I just like the film.

Published April 21, 2005

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CAST: Jason Schwartzman, Isabelle Huppert, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts

PRODUCER: Gregory Goodman, Scott Rudin, David O. Russell

DIRECTOR: David O. Russell

SCRIPT: David O. Russell, Jeff Baena


EDITOR: Robert K. Lambert

MUSIC: Jon Brion


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 16, 2004

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director David O'Russell; audio commentary by O'Russell and cast; production doco; extended & deleted scenes; outtakes; miscellaneous things people did; infomercial & commercials; Jon Brion's Knock Yourself Out music video


DVD RELEASE: April 20, 2005

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