The Details is a film that gets it wrong from monotonous beginning to manufactured end. When it’s not dragging along at a snail’s pace, it’s glossing over potentially interesting questions of intent or morality and willfully ignoring the inner lives of characters and choking to death the possibility of a bold narrative. Remarkably dull, confusingly so, and entirely unfunny for a supposed dark comedy.
A mild mannered doctor, Jeff (Tobey Maguire) has some trouble with raccoons eating his lawn, and gets mixed up with his “wackadoodle” neighbor (Laura Linney). Meanwhile as he steadily works on cheating on his wife (Elizabeth Banks) and attempts to help a friend (Dennis Haybert), he gets deeper into fantastical trouble.
Writer and director Jacob Aaron Estes wrote and directed the phenomenal Mean Creek, and that fact alone kept me in my seat for the entirety of The Details, even though about halfway through I grew so bored of the monotony that I began thinking about leaving. I thought about it a lot. It started competing with the movie itself. I daydreamed about rising, walking to my car, driving away. I thought about the tasty treats I could eat if I left. I’ve never walked out of a movie because of violence or ideology, but I felt the strong compulsion that this film was wasting my life, wasting my time and giving me nothing in return. You would not believe how much time that stupid raccoon plotline takes up.
Much of the film revolves around infidelity, which is such a potentially fascinating topic as it touches not only on sexuality, but comfort, desire, morality, and a dozen other facets of life, yet The Details fails to delve into any of the psychology or reasoning, debasing it down to pure animal instinct. Not everyone cheats because of sex, but perhaps asking for anymore explanation at all is giving these characters too much credit. Jeff seems to feel as if he has done nothing wrong, but is more focused on not wanting to lose the life that he has carefully built. Then why endanger it? Who knows, who cares.
Another difficulty faced by the film is the fact that Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks are perhaps two of the least compelling actors working today. It pains me to say that, truly it does, as I’ve deeply enjoyed films that both of them have been in, and they seem like awesome people in real life. However, the lack of chemistry is palpable, and their performances regrettably lack authenticity. They both seem bored, to be blunt, and they’re not the only ones.
Laura Linney is mesmerizing and terrifying as the creepy neighbor obsessed with Jeff, her utter mastery and control of each scene she’s in becomes even more apparent as Tobey Maguire sits idly by and lets her steal every moment that should rightfully be his. Because my brain is made of pudding, I didn’t realize the entire movie that Jeff’s friend Dennis Haysbert was Dennis Haysbert and thought, “This guy’s pretty good, he’s going to be quite famous, I think!” Yeah, you dope, he’s done all right for himself.
The IMDB trivia says that James McAvoy was originally cast but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, which I think, unfortunately, means he finally got a copy of the script and decided to schedule a conflict. Not doing anyone any favors is the overbearing score by tomandandy — which, full pause right there on that name for a full on eyeroll that can be felt rather than seen — that feels ripped from the “Desperate Housewives” “overused themes” bin.
This movie is bizarre, and not in an enjoyable way. I was reminded at times of the Quentin Dupieux movie Wrong, though Wrong does weird and misshapen narrative right, and The Details is a steamy mess that can’t even get it up enough to be a full-fledged infidelity bang-fest. There’s a few moments that feel authentic in their confusion, the way that one thing leads to another and suddenly you find yourself cheating when maybe you didn’t mean to be cheating, or having a conversation you didn’t intend to be having, but the majority of the film is built upon quicksand and you can’t wait for it to sink slowly below the surface.
One of the hardest things I ever heard about writing was: You don’t deserve an audience. You don’t automatically get to have the things that you write, be read by people simply because you wrote them down. People will look away, get bored, leave your writing and find something else to interest them. The same goes for films, though I’ve never heard it articulated as such. So you made a movie? Well, people aren’t obligated to watch it, much less enjoy it. Make something better, something that deserves to be read or seen. Not everything deserves to be made, not everything deserves to be seen simply because it does exist. The Details seems to forget this, and selfishly meanders through a foggy murk, leaving no survivors in its wake.