When a film hits its peak at a mere 88 screens, hopes of fiscal success never even enter the picture. What Just Happened grossed $1,089,365 and did some business across the pond as well, but again, nothing substantial. Nonetheless, its performances and composition are apt and the film made for a nice change of pace alongside the more “serious” November-December releases that jockey for awards.
Marking a return to form for both director Barry Levinson (responsible for the inexcusable Man of the Year) and star Robert De Niro (who has been cashing more checks than Bank of America), What Just Happened offers a sympathetic ear to the Hollywood producer. It’s not enlightening but it does an adequate job in portraying the life of a person that everybody hates. De Niro makes the role his own, playing a man juggling his personal and professional life, both filled with battles he cannot possibly win. His combatants include family members, actors, directors, and colleagues. He has no safe haven, no one to lean on and no shoulder to cry on. The film works as a satirical expose on the business of Hollywood with additional commentary on the uncompromising nature of artists. The end result is far from biting but it remains more considerate and sharp than most comedies. For this I recommend it.
While not showcase worthy, the image quality proficiently exhibits how newer films, even those with lower budgets, benefit largely from the BD platform. Of course, digital advances in the medium itself aide transfers like this, even if it didn’t utilize digital cinematography, a wide misconception. Instead What Just Happened was shot on a series of lightweight, easily maneuverable 35mm cameras before undergoing digital immediate processing in post-production. This practice, which allows for more control in color correcting (among other things), gives the image a more refined look that caters well to both digital projectors and home theater systems. Fitting of the movie’s themes, cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine opts to use cameras that afford a more documentary-style aesthetic. Most shots, particularly tracking ones, are handheld and have a tendency to blur, which I see as half intentional. Medium shots sometimes lack focal depth but the details at the forefront of the picture are clear - facial features and skin tones are especially fine. The film’s color palette feels universally matted – exterior shots fare better than interiors – with the exception of light blues, reds, and whites, which are vibrant. Fast-motion scenes, sporadically laced throughout the picture, are handled well. The audio layering also impresses, though the film’s content doesn’t allow for a wide range of sound play. Overall, I’d say the transfer is above average but not showcase quality. Still, kudos is due to Magnolia home entertainment for their efforts here.
Cast: Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci, Robin Wright-Penn and Michael Wincott
Director: Barry Levinson
Screenwriter: Art Linson
Producer: Todd Wagner
Rating: R for language, some violent images, sexual content and some drug material
Running time: 107 min.