DVD Review: Neverwas
Release Date: July 3, 2007
· Joshua Michael Stern
· Aaron Eckhart
· Ian McKellen
· Brittany Murphy
· William Hurt
· Nick Nolte
· Alan Cumming
· Jessica Lange
· IMDb: Neverwas
by R.J. Carter
Published: July 4, 2007
Ian McKellen works wizardry in this modern day Christopher Robin's lament that operates in much the same vein as "The Fisher King". McKellen plays Gabriel Finch, an inmate in a psychiatric clinic, who hasn't spoken a word to anyone since his admission.
The film opens with Zach Riley (Aaron Eckhart) forcing his way into a staff position at the clinic. He's given up his position at Cornell for this out of the way asylum, and his new boss (William Hurt) is sure that the falling-apart clinic is beneath Riley's stature.
But Riley has an ulterior motive. His given name is Zachary Pierson, and he's the son of famous children's author T.L. Pierson (played in several flashbacks by Nick Nolte). His father was a patient at Millwood when Zach was a child, and his depression drove him to hang himself, leaving Zach filled with guilt.
But while Zach spends his nights sleeplessly poring over records documenting his father's stays at Millwood, it's his encounters with Gabriel that are the most fascinating. Gabriel, himself in and out of Millwood many times over the years, seems to recognize Zach, speaking only to him. Gabriel declares himself to be the exiled and imprisoned king of Neverwas -- the magical land of which Zach's father wrote about, and in which Zachary himself was the main character, much like A.A. Milne's Christopher Robin character in the Winnie the Pooh stories. By Gabriel's accounts, Zach is there to fulfill a prophecy and rescue him.
Complicating issues is the presence of Maggie Blake (Brittany Murphy), an old childhood acquaintance of Zach's, who has also returned home, ostensibly for botanical research. They slowly form a relationship, which is tested beyond limits when Zach learns the secret Maggie is keeping from him, a secret that ties into her overly-obsessive collection of all things Neverwas.
By the Book. Zach and Maggie follow the imagined
landmarks from Zach's father's novel.
(L-R: Eckhart, Murphy)
Zach's grasp on reality becomes more tenuous the more time he spends with Gabriel. Gabriel's room is festooned with artwork detailing the land of Neverwas, and Gabriel's own journal is even more detailed than the novel Zach's father wrote -- and decades older than the story's original release! Pierson's own field guide contains numerous drawings, and as Zach begins to uncover hidden compartments within the book, he even finds black and white photographs. Could it be that Gabriel is right -- is Neverwas a real place?
Zach won't have to wonder for long, because the inmates have escaped the asylum -- Gabriel included. To find him, Gabriel is going to have to rely on his father's field guide and maps to get to the mythical land of Neverwas, and redeem both Gabriel and himself.
The Return of the King. Gabriel gives Zach his first view
of the castle of the King of Neverwas.
(L-R: McKellen, Eckhart)
McKellen turns in a stellar performance; only he can deliver a rant with such grandiloquence and believable zeal. Nolte is nearly becoming typecast these days as the perpetual "man on the edge of a breakdown," but he portrays the part so sympathetically in "Neverwas" that it should be forgiven in this instance. Jessica Lange, meanwhile, is left to languish in the underused role of Zach's tosspot mother who simply can't believe that Zach has abandoned the prestige of Cornell for Millwood, given what happened there, and that it's the anniversary of Pierson's suicide. Frustratingly, the tension between Zach and his mother is left unresolved, while the rifts between Zach and Maggie are healed almost too easily.
Regardless, the overall sense of enchantment that permeates "Neverwas" makes it a winner.
This DVD release contains no special features.
Audio is in English Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are available in English, French or Spanish.
Previews on this release include "Underdog", "Wild Hogs", and "The Invisible".