HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Don Verdean
HTS Overall Score:70
I knew from the minute I watched the trailer for “Don Verdean” that I was either going to be insulted by the subject matter, or laugh myself silly. However, I didn’t take into account option C. that I wouldn’t be insulted by the subject matter, but also that I wouldn’t really be laughing either. The idea that Don Verdean was this religious archeologist that created a comedic sham wasn’t handled in poor taste. In fact it was pretty accurate when taken tongue in cheek manner to the charlatans who adorn early morning broadcast TV asking you for donations and in return sending you a “red blood of Jesus prayer cloth, and a vial of holy water”. That is if you give generously. I find that being able to laugh at one’s own culture is a must, and as a Christian some of the archetypes in the movie had me doubling over in laughter being that they were pretty accurate at times. Unfortunately the 1st half hour was the only good part of the movie, as the 2nd and 3rd act just get more and more bizarre, with an ending that had me rolling me eyes.
Sam Rockwell is Don Verdean, a biblical archeologist who goes around the world digging up artifacts to help prove the validity of the scriptures. His latest find has been the shears that shore Samson’s head and this has sparked the interest of one Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride), a preacher who wants to fund Don’s trips as long as Don promises to bring back the artifacts to his church. It seems that Tony Lazarus is losing parishioners to the church across the way helmed by Pastor Fontaine (Will Forte) and he hopes that by keeping Don on retainer his church will get a boost from the word of mouth concerning the artifacts.
Put under the gun on a time crunch, Don finds out that he may have to forgo this latest search which entails finding the skull of Goliath. With time running out and nothing found, the scared archeologist decides to do the unfathomable and fabricate the evidence. Digging up a skull of a dead freak of nature, Don brings it back to the states long with his Israeli contact, Boaz (Jermaine Clement), in order to dupe Tony Lazarus and the rest of the world. This one act may be simple enough but it escalates Don’s slide down a slippery slope, landing him in a complete hornets’ nest. Boaz figures out Don’s secret and uses that bit of knowledge to manipulate him into going along and duping ANOTHER person. This time a Chinese Billionaire who is willing to fund their expeditions QUITE handsomely. But, they do say that crime doesn’t pay, and that lies will eventually found out, and that’s exactly what happens.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=66162[/img]“Don Verdean” isn’t a social commentary on Christianity and isn’t aiming to insult the faith by making fun of it either. Instead it takes a very serious matter of ethics inside the religious world and just has a little fun with the stereotypes of people who have been outed for doing so. If you’ve watched those 5am broadcasts on TV you’ve certainly seen a number of charlatans. Usually they go on about needing donations and promising a prophetic message in return, or they have some wonderful book they can sell you (for $39.95) that will completely turn your life around. Or just simply promise excess wealth if you just pray a certain prayer that is CERTAIN to come back a thousand fold. That or your money back. Don Himself isn’t a bad guy at first, and really wants to do the right thing, but the allure of not letting people down and the wonders that riches can bring certainly do change him as he makes his first mistake. He goes from being a good guy with a goofy way of talking to a cheap charlatan like those televangelists, and ends up destroying his life as a result. Albeit in a comedic way.
The first 30 minutes of “Don Verdean” are downright hysterical. I really laughed quite a bit in that half hour and was wondering just why the film had gotten such horrible reviews. Then I found out why. Once they get back into the states after finding the skull (errrr. Fabricating it) the movie just goes downhill. The jokes are fewer and fewer in both quantity and quality. The humor just wears thin after a while and feels more like it could have been better as a 30 minute short film or skit rather than a full blown movie. Sam Rockwell is solid enough as Don Verdean, but he’s not nearly as animated as he usually is, which keeps him from being as engaging. I usually LOOOOOOOVE Jermaine Clement and his style of humor, but all he did the whole time was put on a horrible Jewish accent and stare blankly ahead the entire time. It was rather frustrating since the first act of the movie was actually really good, but once we got through the second act I realize it wasn’t getting any better. The chase for the holy grail was downright boring and the ending tried to redeem itself (and Don Verdea), but just fell a bit flat.
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive content, some language and brief violence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=66170[/img]The 1.78:1 AVC encoded image (mislabeled as 1.85:1 on the case) is rather pleasing to look at, with dusty earthy overtones and a nice shiny bit of spit and polish to the color spectrum. There is a warm glow to the film that is both natural and pleasing, with a nice contrast balance that isn’t boosted too high like many modern films lately. There is some softness to the image, but the fine detail present is excellent. You can see the dust caking on Don Verdean’s clothes as well as the tears and rips in his outfit on a dig. Blacks are solid, but I did notice some washed out levels in certain dark scenes, which leaves a little bit of the fine detail off the plate. It’s a good transfer, and there is almost no banding or other compression issues to deal with despite the fact that it's a mildly soft film the entire time.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=66178[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a good track, one that is rather front heavy though due to the very dialog centric nature of the movie. Vocals are well articulated and balanced with the rest of the limited effects with a rather mild dynamic range. The surround channels get some mild workout with the ambient noises of a plane taking off, or the roar of the Pontiac Fiero’s engine as they run from the police, but otherwise it’s a fairly front loaded movie. LFE is mild and adds some weight were needed, especially the scene where Don and Boaz confront the lab technician where a huge wallop of bass comes out of left field. Other than that though, the lfe is mainly used to support some low end moments with a little bit of power. The track does exactly what is asked of it and does it quite well.
• "Digging In: Behind the Scenes of Don Verdean" Featurette
• "Behind the Sounds" Featurette
• Audio Commentary with Director Jared Hess
“Don Verdean” is a fairly harmless comedy, but one that really isn’t THAT good. I had some fun with the 1st act of the movie, and the second act was ok, but by the 3rd act and the crazy idea to turn the movie into a thriller/crime drama/comedy was a bit of a weird change in pace. The actors did the best they could with the material at hand, but the script and the direction just didn’t have the fine tuning to really make it enjoyable. The audio and video were certainly very impressive, but the extras a tad slim. I can’t say that “Don Verdean” is a bad movie, but it’s just not a good one either. It’s not bad as a cheap rental if you’re bored or need a Netflix fix, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Jermaine Clement
Directed by: Jared Hess
Written by: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 96 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: March 1st 2016
Buy Don Verdean On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Low Rental
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