Loaded with sex, drugs, violence and nudity, Middle Men is the “inspired by” true story of Jack Harris (Luke Wilson), a Texas businessman (and family man) who is called in to serve as a company fixer for a couple of dunderheads named Buck Dolby (Gabriel Macht) and Wayne Beering (Giovanni Ribisi) who have somehow managed to figure out a way to make money off of smut on the World Wide Web. Jack’s brilliant idea, which involves serving as a go-between for consumers and suppliers would have proved smooth sailing if not for the conniving lawyers, sick perverts and Russian mobsters that get in the way. It’s not long before temptation and greed send everyone into a vicious downward spiral. In short, it’s the story of the beginnings of internet porn. Hit the jump for my review of Middle Men on Blu-ray.
The film has a snappy energy, kicking off with an exceptional opening montage that chronicles the evolution of pornography (or more specifically, the relationship between pornography and masturbation). Middle Men then wastes no time, rushing headlong in its narrative, which is populated with characters and twists straight out of the best film noirs. This one’s got all the quintessentials of the genre; dangerous blondes, lowlifes, doubletalkers, guns, beatings, coke, cheats, thieves and thugs. An interesting notion about the film is the way it regards its subject matter of internet porn (which has turned into a multi-billion dollar a year industry) less of a landmark in history than as yet another rung on the infamous ladder in man’s eternal fascination with depravity. And this is why the movie works – it’s a study of human nature, and not the latest technological advances human beings have invented.
Had Middle Men been released post 2010, it would have had the unfortunate fate of being compared to The Social Network. But alas, this one came first, and instead we can accuse Middle Men of owing much of its style and themes to Goodfellas (borrowing/stealing/whatever you wanna call it from Goodfellas is not new; Paul Thomas Anderson did it with Boogie Nights, Justin Lin did it with Better Luck Tomorrow and Scorcese even did it to himself with Casino). From the fractured timeline to the jittery camerawork to the use of source-music as score, Middle Men giddily follows in the examination of one man’s soul slipping from him as he’s seduced by the toxic version of the American dream. And while the formula may be familiar, Middle Men does an effective job of adhering to it, so that by the time Jack’s (eventual) found morality resurfaces, the process is organic and his self-realization is not just earned, it’s believable.
The film’s poppy color palette really crackles on blu-ray. A lot of color timing and correction was done in post-production (this is revealed heavily in some of the deleted footage, which clearly had not been timed), giving the film an almost surreal feel; call it the new-wave look of the film noir if you will. The sound design is nothing extraordinary and can best be described as competent.
A small, standard set of supplementals round out the disc. A trio of pace-slowing deleted scenes (a flashback to young Jack, an unnecessary lawyer moment, and a husband and wife spout) were clearly removed for superfluous reasons. And wasted opportunities of outtake and a “slap montage” (essentially quick cuts of the characters slapping each other set to music) aren’t really worth anyone’s time. The commentary however, by writer/director George Gallo, cinematographer Lukas Etlin and editor Malcolm Campbell provides some fascinating insights into the making of the film. Refreshingly, the filmmakers on this commentary track are more interested in talking about their work process than merely praising actors’ performances (as too many commentaries seem to do these days). Gallo’s reveal that the mantra they kept in mind during the making of the film — “Fuck you, keep up” — actually lends another level of fun to the flick.
While Middle Men may not offer anything you’ve never seen before in a movie (then again, how many films can you say that about?), it’s got an entertaining story to tell and does it with a lively flair that matches its subject matter.