Plot: What’s it about?
Although he has coached the team for the last two years and been defeated each time, Gerald Plecki (Jeff Daniels) has agreed to take on the task once again. But when no one shows up at the informational session, he thinks this might be pointless, until Jolie (Jena Malone) raced in the room at the last second. With her scouting work, the two invite various students to join the Academic Decathlon squad, even though there is little chance for success. So Plecki and his band of kids walk into the regional challenge with minimal expectations, but they manage to finish fifth and qualify for the state level meets. It doesn’t seem like they have much of a chance there though, until one of them discovers all the answers to the exams, which would lock them into a state championship. So Plecki offers the team to make their own choice, as he is tired of the school politics that value sports over academics. But even if the team decides to use the answers and wins the state championship, what will become of them and how will they view their decision?
This was based on a true story, which captivated an entire state and to extent, the nation. So how well does this complex and rich story translate to cinema? Not only is Cheaters the best made for television picture I’ve ever seen, it also one of the finest overall films I’ve seen in a while. I am so impressed with this movie, as it takes a limited budget and runs with it, focusing on the important elements. This means excellent writing, direction, acting, and photography, all of which more than compensate for the lack of budget, proving that skilled filmmakers can deliver, even with very limited resources. This film has a basic premise and approach, but thanks to superb direction and photography, the visuals are striking and the atmosphere is very good also. This adds another dimension to the material and allows the film to deepen, which is good as the material is quite complex. But as good as the writing and visuals are, you need performers who can work with those elements, which this picture has in spades. Jeff Daniels give one of his best turns yet and the others impress also, especially Jena Malone, who has won me over here. This is a superb film that deals with difficult subject matter, but does so in an even more difficult fashion and in doing so, more than proves the point it seeks to make. I highly recommend this release and even with an extras free disc, this one is well worth each and every cent.
I wasn’t always that taken with Jena Malone, but her work has improved over time and here, she turns in a flawless performance. Her role needs a strong blend of innocence and strength, which Malone delivers in fine form and never stumbles. Even though her work has been on the upward trail of late, I still had some doubts her, but after this performance, I am sure she has real star potential. If I had to make a complaint, it would that she isn’t in this flick enough, as her turn is one of the best I’ve seen in some time. Other films with Malone include The Book of Stars, Bastard Out Of Carolina, Stepmom, For Love Of The Game, and Contact. The rest of the cast is also very good and includes Jeff Daniels (Trial and Error, The Butcher’s Wife), Blake Heron (Tom and Huck, Wind River), Anna Raj, Paul Sorvino (Bulworth, Romeo + Juliet), Dan Warry-Smith (Bless The Child, The Long Kiss Goodnight), and Luke Edwards (Little Big League, Newsies).
Video: How does it look?
Cheaters is shown full frame, which it how the film was shown on television. This transfer shows some edge enhancement, but no more than most full frame transfers, so no real complaints there. This is an above average visual presentation, but as a made for television flick, it lacks the refinement of a normal feature film transfer. But the colors look bold and true here, with natural flesh tones and no problems with saturation. Also solid is the contrast, which looks stark and well detailed, no real problems to report here. This doesn’t measure up to the best transfers out there, but it rank pretty high on the overall scale.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a dialogue driven picture, so the included 2.0 surround track is more than adequate. At the times when more range is needed, the mix kicks in and allows the speakers to open up, which adds a lot to the experience. This is usually when the musical soundtrack is present, but some atmospherical effects also surface. But the main focus here is the dialogue, which sounds crisp and clean at all times, with no volume issues at all. This might not be the most powerful mix in town, but it handles the material and that is what counts here. This disc also includes a Spanish mono track, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is a film that begs for supplements, but all we have here are some talent files. I hope that HBO revisits this title down the road and adds a commentary track, behind the scenes featurette, or other form of bonus materials.