I'll second that with my review here as well. I really, really recommend this film:
This was the second review that I did of this film when it came out on video and I tried to get people who read my website interested in the film.
"Return To Paradise":
It happens each and every year. There is always one picture that is truely phenomenal that gets left behind due to either a poor release plan, marketing, or otherwise. Usually, there are more than one of these pictures, but it is rare that one, with the resources of a major studio and a well-known cast, can get left behind. In August of 1998, Polygram released "Return To Paradise" in about 600 theaters, with a minimum of marketing. It was gone from theaters about three weeks later.
That's entirely unfortunate. This is a brilliant, well acted film. The original plot device encircles a group of people tied to one who only has one week left. The film opens with three characters, Sheriff(Vince Vaughn), Louis(Joaquin Phoenix) and Tony(David Conrad). The three men are having fun in Malaysia; drinking, seeing the sights and having a bit of fun. At the end of the vacation, Tony and Sheriff part ways with Louis, who stays behind.
The story shifts to two years later, in New York. Sheriff is back to his old job, driving a limo. One night, a young woman steps into the back of his limo with no particular destination in mind. The woman is Beth(Anne Heche). The cinematography is fantastic; the light washes over Heche's face as she sits in the darkness. It turns out she knows Sheriff. The story begins; Beth talks about Louis, the man the two left behind. Louis was caught with the remainder of the hash that the men bought while they were in Malaysia. In one week, Louis will be tried as a drug dealer in Malaysia. In Malaysia, drug dealers recieve death by hanging. The only way that Louis will live is if the two men go back to Malaysia to serve time. If one of them goes back, Louis and the one who returns will spend 6 years in a Malaysian prison. If the two men return, all three will serve three years. Sheriff doesn't have anything but his job; Tony is recently engaged to be married.
What would you do? Would you lose years of your life in prison to save the life of your friend?
The moral dilema has been set, but what makes the movie so fascinating is not only the riveting performances, but the way that the film expertly layers on additional problems. Without giving away any of the film's details, the tension is slowly tightened as the film continues on; suddenly a reporter threatens to break the story. If she breaks the story, the story will take Louis's life with it. The dilema is the main part of the first half of the film, and it's a compliment to the actors that they make the triangle of wills between Beth, Tony and Sheriff so riveting to watch.
There are simple, soft moments in "Return To Paradise" that work so well. Heche pacing around her hotel room, her face, pale and yet with a sadness that is so emotionally breathtaking. Her face speaks volumes about what she feels. It's a hard character to play, a woman who asks these men to risk their lives to save another, but she does it flawlessly.
The plot may sound like just another "thought-provoking" drama, but it's been a while since a drama really got me thinking, really got me this attached to the characters and their decisions.
And it only gets more powerful once the story goes back to Malaysia, where we see the hell Louis has spent his last two years in.The film gets only more interesting through a scene in a Malaysian courtroom where the judge explains the country's version of justice.
Joaquin Phoenix's performance is nothing short of remarkable as Lewis; there are scenes in his jail cell that really take the act of performance and emotion and acting to a level that we rarely see in films today. Phoenix and Vince Vaughn give what I think are Oscar-worthy performances here and I hope that Polygram will try to promote this fact towards Oscar time, but as the days roll forward, that seems doubtful. Phoenix's character is a man who is hanging onto any thread of hope he can and as Louis, he gives what really is a phenomenal performance.
Again, it's unfortunate that this film was ignored in theaters, but I hope that it will find a second life on video shelves. The performances by the cast are nothing short of outstanding; this is a film that will, in my opinion, challenge and entertain and have viewers riveted.This may be a sad or depressing film, but it has performances that are simply outstanding. In a time where thought-provoking studio films are a rarity, this picture is a refreshing change. There are enough twists and turns and emotions in this film to make it a grand, phenomenal picture. As a person who reaches a few hundred readers a day, I like to use my forum so that hopefully, people can find quality entertainment. If this review convinces one person to go rent this film now that it's on video, then I've done my job.If you decide to rent this, I hope you enjoy this film as much as I do. It is among 1998's very best films.
If you are at your local video store, please give this film a try.
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