I love it when I hear stories like the one behind the creepy-cool black comedy, “Don McKay”. Here’s a film that would probably never have been made were writer/director Jake Goldberger to have played by Hollywood’s rules and navigated the miles of red tape, agents, and predatory producers in hopes of somehow landing a deal with a studio with the gonads to make such a strange little movie. Instead, Goldberger went right to the man he pictured inhabiting the role of the film’s titular character - Thomas Haden Church - and, in one of the rare instances in which an unsolicited screenplay lands in the hands of an actor who truly appreciates the material, Church (who also serves as executive producer) championed the film, helping a virtual unknown make his dream movie with a cast that not only includes Church, but Elisabeth Shue, the amazing Melissa Leo, M. Emmet Walsh, and a fantastic turn by Keith David. The fact that Don McKay is also a very good, pitch-dark comedy/thriller is just icing on the cake.
Don McKay is a solitary sort. He quietly works as a janitor in a Boston-area high school, isn’t big on chit-chat, and spends his evenings holed up in a shoebox of an apartment in deep thought. This is one lonely, tortured soul desperately in need of some quality time with another human being or two, so, when he’s summoned back to his hometown by old high school flame, Sonny (Shue), Don jumps at the opportunity. Sonny is dying, you see, and her last wish is to see Don before her time comes. Of course, it would take someone like Sonny – the one true love of his life - to get Don to return to a town hasn’t so much as driven through in over twenty five years . After a long bus ride, Don arrives at Sonny’s house, and it’s there that he meets her live-in nurse, Marie (Leo), who seems to take an instant dislike to Don. She questions his intentions, and is worried that he’ll hurt the already fragile Sonny. Don assures her that he’d do no such thing, and, when he and Sonny are finally reunited, it’s just like old times.
That is, until Sonny’s doctor, Lance Pryce (James Rebhorn), drops in for a quick check-up. He, like Marie, is immediately distrustful of Don, while, at the same time, Sonny seems extremely uncomfortable with the attentions of the obviously love struck Dr. Pryce. Later that evening, Sonny invites Don to share her bed, and the two rekindle their romance. The next morning, Don awakens to find Dr. Pryce lurking around the property, and, when Don lets it slip that he and Sonny spent the night together, the doctor flies into a violent rage and attacks him. Don accidentally kills Pryce while trying to fend him off, and, in a panic, decides to hide the body (poorly) in the woods. In the process, Don is stung by a bee, has an extreme allergic reaction, and awakens in the hospital with Sonny fawning over him. She declares her love for him, and tells him she wants to get married and spend the rest of her short life with him. Don asks about Dr. Pryce, and Sonny tells him that she’s spoken to the doctor and that he’s worried about Don. Knowing this can’t be true, Don begins to wonder what Sonny’s hiding from him, and soon finds himself thrust into a world of murder, blackmail, and deceit.
Don McKay is a darkly funny, absorbing, and eccentric thriller that is equal parts Polanski’s “The Tenant” and “Napoleon Dynamite” with a touch of “Blood Simple” thrown in for good measure. It’s a decidedly offbeat story filled with an engaging and interesting roster of supporting characters, all of whom are fleshed out as roundly and effectively as Don, himself, making each of their individual stories and motivations just as intriguing. It’s a testament to Goldberger as both a screenwriter and a director as it’s not an easy feat to juggle so many characters and still manage to make each one’s story so compelling. It helps that the impressive cast are all in top form, here, with Leo and David (in a very small-yet-pivotal role) really exhibiting sides to themselves you rarely get to see in the roles they’re usually given. Shue, too, is excellent as the confused (?) and manic Sonny, while Church is at his deadpan best.
The Blu-ray from Image features a sturdy, 1.77: 1 transfer that boasts nice, clean detail, and a genuine sense of depth and dimension. This is a fairly drab looking film set in a world that looks to be in a perpetual state of overcast skies, with subdued blues, grays, and browns, so the image doesn’t necessarily jump of the screen, but the black levels are rich and true and give the picture some pop. The 5.1 DTS HD soundtrack is equally restrained but does what it does quite nicely, offering organic sounding dialogue, convincing environmental effects, and very robust bass that makes itself known whenever one of the many vintage songs on the film’s soundtrack comes into play. It’s all very understated, but comes together wonderfully.
Image drums up a few extras for the Blu-ray, including a very entertaining commentary from director, Goldberger, and producer Jim Young. It’s a funny and light track and the two don’t leave much space for dead air as Goldberger is more than happy to fill in any gaps with an interesting aside or funny story from the set. There are also a selection of deleted scenes (presented in standard definition) and the film’s trailer (HD).
Don McKay is a surprisingly funny, twisted, and even occasionally touching comedy/thriller that boasts some fine performances and an intriguing storyline that will hook viewers in and keep them guessing until the very last frame. It’s not a perfect film, and Goldberger’s direction is, at times, indicative of his neophyte status, but it’s all so old-fashioned and offbeat that I found myself hopelessly lost in its world, and I believe patient viewers looking for something a little different will find themselves equally entranced. Definitely worth checking out!