Return to Paradise Reviews
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.
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.
Three friends spend vacation time in Malaysia- two go home, but one, Lewis McBride (Joaquin Phoenix) stays with the dream of working with apes for his research. Two years later a lawyer, Beth Eastern (Anne Heche), locates the friends. It turns out that shortly after they had left Lewis, police raided their camp and found large quantities of hash inside. Lewis was the only one residing there, so he took the full blame and is being sentenced to execution unless his two friends can come forward and take their share of the responsibility, whereby reducing the sentence for him, but at the same time putting themselves into the depths of hell.
The story begins with questions of morality but quickly devolves into absurdities; however, it is the literally CHILLING, emotionally wrought and powerful performance given by Joaquin Phoenix that *really* lends this movie its legs. (Review edited to add that credit aught to be given to Anne Heche's equally brilliant performance.) Set design was well constructed, giving the feeling of third-world, unsanitary conditions, and the feeling of total isolation from the pretty things we're all use to...
Overall worth it for the performances and a long after-movie discussion. 7.8/10.
An excellent film, and one of my top ten thus far this year. Young party guys Vaughn and Conrad visit their buddy Phoenix in Malaysia, and frolic their way through the abundant liquor, ladies, and drugs. Two years later, back home in New York, Vaughn and Conrad are approached by a young attorney (Heche), with the news that Phoenix was found with a brick of hashish that they all purchased, and has been in prison since they left him. He is due to be executed in eight days, unless Vaughn and Conrad step forward and voluntarily agree to serve three years apiece. Conrad and Vaughn are torn: do they volunteer to enter a Third World prison to save their friend's life? Can they live with themselves if they refuse? The actors are all excellent, but clearly this is Vaughn's vehicle, though Phoenix also gives an Oscar-worthy performance. The romance that emerges between Heche and Vaughn is somewhat contrived, however it is necessary for the eventual redemption of Vaughn's self-centered character. The best element is the constant underlying question that all of us in the audience must ask ourselves throughout the film: What would I do in the same situation?
Long Story Short...
The two 2 guys have to decide Either do 3 years each if they booth go back to Malaysia or 6 years If only one goes back or
Lewis Die's if neither go!!! Do They want to give up their freedom and go to a Third-World prison To help save a guy they barely know ???
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?)