Pay it Forward

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

The concept for a movie such as Pay it Forward seems to be nothing but a good idea. Can one idea change the world? Of course it can. Where would we be without inventions such as the wheel, radio, television or even our computers? The thing is that those ideas didn’t come from a kid in Junior High school. Tasked with a “homework” assignment, Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) comes up with an idea that has potential and just might be one of the most intuitive things to come around in years. Pay it Forward. You borrow some money from a friend…what do you do? Pay it back. This is the same process, except you do three completely selfless acts for three people, and all you ask in return is that they do the same for three other people. It doesn’t take a lot of math to see the long reaching effects of this little idea. Instead of pay it it back-you pay it forward. Aside from the name of the movie, it’s almost flawless. Trevor and his mom live in a not so good part of Las Vegas. Trevor’s mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt) is a recovering alcoholic and works in sleazy bars to get by with her life. There’s the father (Jon Bon Jovi) who is abusive and returns just in time to make things miserable and lastly there’s Trevor’s social studies teacher (Kevin Spacey) who, as a burn victim, is content to live his life and be miserable. But Pay it Forward succeeds in all the fine performances given on screen, even Bon Jovi’s is good, though short. Trevor takes a homeless man (Jim Caviezel) who has a drug problem and tries to make him sort out his life. He tries to help a friend at school who is being bullied and he also sets up Mr. Simonent (Spacey) and his mother to go out on a date. Mr. Simonent is shy, and as a result of his outward scars, has given up on any semblance of hope for a happy life. This all changes when he meets Arlene.

Something about a chain reaction occurs when a cynical reporter in Los Angeles (Jay Mohr) is on the receiving end of a “Pay it Forward”. His car is crashed and is given a brand new Jaguar out of sheer kindness. Being a reporter, he decides to investigate this phenomenon built on the kindness of strangers. What all of this does is force this “Pay it Forwardism” down our throat. We know that Hunt’s character is an alchoholic and that their life is not happy. We know that Mr. Simonent is unhappy and emotionally distressed, but aside from the strong performances (most notably from Haley Joel Osment), it seems to be another case of Simon Birch (good plot, characters and actors…yet something just seems to be missing). Director Mimi Leder, primarily known for her action movies (Deep Impact and The Peacemaker) does do a good turn by cultivating the talents of these actors. They’re good, no doubt about it. But there seems to be something disjointed and convuleted about the entire movie that left me feeling uneasy (and it wasn’t just the ending). All the right elements are at work here in the movie, but like I’ve said before, it seems to be missing something. Destined for greatness with two Oscar winners and an Oscar nominee, Pay it Forward didn’t quite garner the Academy votes that it had hoped for. One thing is certain, the three main actors will have good roles after this movie, so sad that it couldn’t all come together in this one.

Video: How does it look?

Presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 ratio, Pay it Forward is another tribute to Warner’s day and date DVD releases. The colors are solid, there is no artifacting, but the little things add up to not make it a perfect transfer. Parts of this movie are so clear that you can see Kevin Spacey’s makeup marks at times, as his character is scarred by fire, it’s evident that he does have heavy makeup on, but it’s a testament to the transfer when you can actually tell. A majority of the movie takes place at night, so some of the black levels need a bit of tweaking, other than that…Pay it Forward delivers on another superb transfer from Warner.

Audio: How does it sound?

Unlike Leder’s last movie, Deep Impact, which had everything to do with audio (and hardly anything to do with plot), Pay it Forward doesn’t quite excel in this department. Being a movie that is light on the audio means (in most cases) that it’s heavy on plot. That or it’s old! Pay it Forward is the latter, but it still has a few chances for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack to shine. There’s not a lot else to say, the dialogue is clean and free of any distortion, but for the most part this is a disc that will occupy only three of your 5+ speakers.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Though not labeled as a Special Edition, Pay it Forward has it’s share of supplemental material. First off, there is an HBO First Look: The Making of Pay it Forward. Odds are that if you’ve seen one of these, then you’ve seen them all. It contains some interviews with the cast and crew and some behind the scenes information as well. Well-made and informative, it’s a welcome addition to the disc. A feature-length commentary with Director Mimi Leder is the most abundant feature, and though she is very articulate in her comments and knowledge of the movie, I found it to be kind of dry and boring. Just my opinion though, filled with lots of extra information if you’re into that sort of thing. Some cast bios and a trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen, are the other additional features that can be found on the disc.

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