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Return to Paradise Reviews

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LWOODS04
LWOODS04

Super Reviewer

August 12, 2009
review soon...
Dan S

Super Reviewer

November 10, 2011
An original, thought-provoking film concerning three friends who party hard in Malaysia one summer (Vince Vaughn, Joaquin Phoenix, and David Conrad), where illegal substances are used frequently and the concentration is on just "having a good time". Flash forward a few years later, two of the buds (Vaughn and Conrad) already returned to the states while one of them (Phoenix) stayed behind, and a tenacious lawyer (Anne Heche) appears out of nowhere to inform them that their friend has been arrested for possession of hash, enough to put him to death under Malaysian laws. He is sentenced to hang, with the only exception being if one of the friends or both of them return home, in which case the three of them would do six or three years together respectively. It is a somewhat complicated plot, almost to the point where you start to question if this could actually happen (it might, just not here in the States), but the driving force behind this film remains the trio of performances from Vaughn (who has never been better), Phoenix (whose performance is simply chilling) and Heche (an utterly phenomenal turn), and how you sympathize with these characters. However, the film totally careens off course in its last third, when it seems as if a Hollywood studio kicked in the door and wrecked the creative writing process. It is a shame this movie becomes just "average" when the finale goes for conventional Hollywood story swings, including a laughable final shot that is supposed to be dramatic and uplifting, as well as a severe leap in logic concerning the fate of Vaughn's character. Not a bad movie by any means, but it could have been good or great if it wasn't hamstrung by a poorly put-together final act.
Adam M

Super Reviewer

October 25, 2010
The intricate workings of the moral dilemma somehow overcome the melodrama. You could complain that the concept deserved to no give-ins to schmaltz from the directors, actors and the soundtrack... but including the schmaltz makes this movie a twisted, tragic version of The Hangover.
familiar s

Super Reviewer

May 18, 2010
Coincidentally, got to see 2 movies focusing more or less on someone dealing with the fear to go to prison. While one movie (The 25th Hour) was a disappointment, this one was an amazing experience. The scene depicting Joaquin Phoenix's condition in the prison was brilliant. Joaquin Phoenix played that part incredibly well, keeping it simple, sans any overacting. Highly recommended.





SPOILERS:
The ending was what I though it'd be, but it didn't happen the way I thought. My idea was that ultimately Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) would ask Sheriff (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) to not to admit their part in crime & return. He wishes to be hanged because he feels that he'd never be able to get back to what he was (completely sane) after the bitter years he spent in prison. He now looks up on his execution as his freedom.

While I found the actual ending equally okay, my only problem was with the all-of-a-sudden "media" twist which was a bit hard to digest. Overlooking that, it was wonderfully done.
Marcus W

Super Reviewer

December 22, 2007
Fascinating premise but not enough to sustain 100 minutes. Instead it grows bored and throws in an unnecessary romance to try and keep things moving.
KevinTheMovieManiac
KevinTheMovieManiac

Super Reviewer

October 23, 2008
This movie was amazing, one of Vince Vaugn's best movies.
Chosen 7

Super Reviewer

November 13, 2007
Good film, towards the end was really sad but realistic. Good performances by Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, and Joaquin Phoenix.
Haley A

Super Reviewer

March 16, 2006
Vaughn and Phoenix are awesome.
July 31, 2012
An interesting film to review indeed. Figured this would pretty much be 'Midnight Express' modernized, but it's not at all. This film focuses more on life at home & state of mind rather than life in prison. 'Return to Paradise' is all over the place script wise, but somehow the end result is quite good & entertaining. Vince Vaughn isn't an actor I'm fond of. Never has been. He's quite good here though & shows off some of his overlooked acting chops. His speech he gives to the Malaysian judge at the end was Oscar worthy. Anne Heche is equally good. Why those 2 don't do more films like this I don't know. Phoenix is effective & powerful in his short screen time. Story is very thought provoking. Ending was a total shocker for me & quite intense. Overall a very solid movie, but nothing special. It fit my taste.
November 13, 2011
"Return to Paradise" presents the kind of moral dilemma that might be presented to you on some drunken night with a bunch of friends. I mean, Would you go to prison in another country for years, in order to save a friend from death, if you weren't being forced to? The problem for the characters in this film, of course, is that the question is not hypothetical, and that makes the answer all the more impossible.

The movie opens in Panang, Malaysia, where 3 friends, Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Tony (David Conrad) and Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) are enjoying a lengthy stay overseas, viewing all their activities through a casual, day to day haze of drugs. "We've got it all here," Sheriff says, describing the warm ocean water as "God's own bathtub." Eventually, months later, Tony and Sheriff decide to head back stateside to pick up where they left off. Lewis, however, remains behind, planning to join an effort to free apes from captivity.

Through a series of events, Lewis is arrested for drug possession after police discover him with 100 kilos of hashish that the 3 men had purchased. He is charged with drug trafficking, a capital crime in Malaysia, and is sentenced to death by hanging. After two years in prison his last appeal has just been rejected and he is within a week of his sentence being carried out.

The other two men were unaware of this, but Lewis's attorney, Beth (Anne Heche) approaches the men with the news of Lewis's situation. She has forged a deal with the Malaysian authorities: if at least one of the two others will return with her to Malaysia and accept their share of ownership of the hashish, Lewis will not have to die. The prison term for both men returning would be three years. If only one returns, he will have to serve six.

Although Vaughn and Conrad play the men with the impossible decision to make, Anne Heche is the one whose performance carries the film. She doggedly appeals to both men's sense of morality, and there is a possibility that she may go too far sometimes in her methods. The film doesn't paint her as a heroine but as a woman willing to do almost anything to save Lewis's life, and perhaps will cross lines even she can't fully appreciate. Vince Vaughn is also very good and you can't help but feel for this guy throughout the film, especially the end. Many have said that Joaquin Phoenix "steals the movie", and he was very good, but keep in mind he's only onscreen for 10-15 minutes or so out of the entire movie. David Conrad plays sort of the odd man out in all this even though his decision is just as important as Vaughn's. Still Conrad was pretty good throughout. Vera Farmiga before she started getting bigger roles was great in her short time on screen. Jada Pinkett Smith is pretty annoying but that was the role she was obviously going for so it worked well.

The movie is determined to be evenhanded in its position on all of this, and firmly leaves the audience to decide what is right. This leaves us in suspense about exactly what choices the characters will make, and what the end result will be. Movies like this can be a real treat because of how they force you to think about the issues they present, and in the end, if given the decision that Tony and Sheriff had to make, I can honestly say I would not have an answer.
bobsteele0069
September 13, 2009
A Midnight Express for a new generation. Not as graphic, but well written and acted Joquain is fantastic as usual.
ElisaLopez20
June 23, 2007
I love it when a movie relies on a strong idea to win the audience over -- rather than excessive violence or high-tech special effects (although I enjoy those kinds of movies as well).

The premise of Return to Paradise is relatively simple: Three friends on holiday in Malaysia. Two leave. The police arrive and find hash where they were staying. The third is put in jail. Two years later a lawyer finds the two remaining men in New York and tells them that their friend was found guilty of trafficking. They must go back to share the punishment or he will die in 7 days.

It's a frightening dilemma and you can't help but ask yourself the same question. Would you go back? If one goes back they go to prison for 6 years. If both go they will have 3 years each. All of the arguments are put forward, making the answer not seem as clear as originally imagined. The timeframe is made even tenser with titles reminding us of how many days are remaining.

Vince Vaughn plays our hero who doesn't always act in the morally correct way we expect him to do. He doesn't immediately decide to go back, making us question if we would either. Vaughn gives the finest performance of his career as the not completely likeable 'Sheriff'. Anne Heche plays the increasingly desperate lawyer who will do anything to save her client from execution. And her desperation is made completely believable by Heche's multi-faceted performance.

The real stand out performance for me was that of Joaquin Phoenix who plays the imprisoned Lewis. Phoenix has little screen time but whenever he's on he totally captivates. The video message to his two friends is just heartbreaking, and his last scene is one I will never forget.

The powerful portrayals in this film are rivaled by its powerful story. The plot is so richly detailed that, though it seems a ridiculously simple premise, it is brought to life with horrific realism.

Not a car chase in sight and hardly any violence, but the tension is sky high. When Sheriff visits Lewis in prison, and Lewis tries to describe his life of the last two years, knowing that his friend has still not yet agreed to the deal . . . what a scene!
And by the time the suspenseful court scene arrives, you will find yourself nervously hoping for a happy ending.

Needless to say the film ends with a succession of unspeakably powerful scenes. I find that not too many people know of this movie, and that's a shame...5 stars, definitely recommend.

(Ask yourself...would you give up years of your life for a friend? Would you be willing to let that friend die if you didn't?)
funin317
March 13, 2008
I've got to admit, it's one of my favorite movies. Intense drama with a VERY interesting ending that encourages a LOT of soul-searching.
jolac9677
November 25, 2007
An emotional movie. Vince Vaugh and Joaquin Phoenix are really good in this. Phoenix's performance was really emotionally and desperate. It was beautiful. But the ending ruined the rest of the movie for me. Hated the ending.
candacay
July 8, 2007
This movie was really good yet it creeped me out in the end. It also shows what true friendship and integrity is all about.
April 28, 2007
This is a piece of depressing flotsam.

:::SPOILER:::
Asian judicial system gets pissed off at insensative, career driven "any sacrifice for the story" US reporter trying for an international headline and doesn't hold up it's end of bargain.

Cowardice aplenty here and honor too. But if I'm supposed to believe that taking her dead brother home to bury him (Malaysia hung him in spite of Vince Vaughn coming back to answer for his part) and then coming back to wait for Vince Vaughn to get out of prison is a happy ending, well that's ludicrous!!! As was most of this movie.

Don't even bother with it! I WISH I hadn't!!!
nanoqna
December 31, 2006
i missed the beginning when i watched it. i didnt see the ending coming, it was so sad! i didnt like the ending though. the movie was so good and thent here was the ending! joauqin pheoinix did an awesome job. he did better than anyone else. and the acting was the best part of the movie. vince vaughn was totally realistic. but the plot should have been better. it was ok but not great.
August 1, 2006
Difficult to watch, but worth the time. Refreshing, non-cliche plot. Oh, you will probably fall for Vince Vaughn, too.
Mike N.
June 20, 2014
compelling,thought provoking,and powerful.
June 15, 2014
It's very simple, really: this movie is depressing, and little else. It's sad, it's slow, it's boring, and nothing makes up for it. There's little of note to see here besides the ridiculousness of global policies, and while that may be true, why would anyone in their right mind want to sit through such drivel? The high critic ratings I assume are mostly based on how depressing the movie is rather than its artistic, creative, inspiring, ambitious, or any other sort of entertaining value, because this film has none. Whatever praise I would normally give to actors is diminished by the contrived nature of the writing preventing any sort of logical progress from moving forward, and their broken delivery. Whatever enjoyment I had in the beginning is quickly and permanently shot down. The ending does not suffice. It was released during a time when movies like these were seen as Oscar-worthy, so I can see why a major production company would invest 14 million dollars in it, but I'm glad they lost 6. Hopefully the failure of paradise will lead to less of it in the future.
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