All Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) wants to do is experience life: The luxuries, the splendor, the vacations, and the romance. So what if he has to defraud a major medical corporation? So what if he has to escape prison countless times? So what if he’s living on the lam?
Carrey is brilliant as Russell, giving film such a casual demeanor for crimes that most people wouldn’t even come close to having the guts to attempt, let alone continually commit. He never seems to panic until he knows that he will be caught, and even then just tosses money aside like it’s nothing.
Russell is brilliant too, this a true story based on a Texas con man with an amazing IQ who disgraced an entire prison system with a plan so elaborate, it never should of worked. Of course, it did, or we wouldn’t have I Love You Phillip Morris.
At the heart of it all though is a love story, Russell becoming enamored with a prison inmate Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), igniting a need inside Russell to commit fraud on an epic scale. Prison can’t contain him, and he even weasels around within prison walls when he is inside, landing in the same cell as Morris. He bribes to get what he wants, sneaks by under the radar as an unassuming low level crook, and continues on with his life.
Phillips Morris’ closest cousin is the equally unreal The Informant, in which Matt Damon’s character pulled another unbelievable con that slowly unravels. What’s interesting about the Russell story is that his plans don’t slowly unravel, they simply find a hitch that he didn’t stop to consider, the whole thing crumbling. It’s all because of love though, Russell wanting the best for everyone including his lover, and that’s something everyone can relate to.
Lionsgate issues an AVC encode with a somewhat iffy start, the opening 10-minutes or so suffering from a thicker, heavier grain structure than the rest. The compression handles it well enough, although it’s never very flattering. The film is also color graded to match specific eras, from the light browns of the ’60s into the yellowish ’70s.
Everything settles down in a slightly chilled palette for the story to commence once into the ’90s, which is where most of this takes place (or at least seem to; the timeline can be a bit wonky). Flesh tones have a mild orange tinge, nothing offensive. For the most part, they keep naturally. Prison garb is typically diluted and bland, while other primaries can produce some bold vibrancy. Reds become dominant as as Russell begins spending on lavish vehicles, and the multi-million dollar home has some of the greenest grass you’ll ever see.
Detail is outstanding, close-ups unbelievable in their detail. Faces are always rife with pores, sweat, or any other marking that is needed to come through in HD. Exteriors are phenomenal, and the texture present on clothing or other fabrics can easily be visible. The film opens a bit soft, filters obviously applied for effect, sometimes causing a light bloom or haze. Like the grain structure, it all works itself out.
It’s the black levels that let this one down though, never reaching a point where they have any bite. Scenes in low light falter miserably, never reaching adequate depth. They’re more of a murky, bland brown than black, taking way from the image’s otherwise remarkable qualities. They can’t match up to the bright, clean, pure contrast.
There’s quite a bit to go on with regards to this DTS-HD mix, mostly because prison interiors are full of echoes. As Russell first enters the facility at 19:24, taunts from inmates can easily be heard splitting the stereo channels, while panning into the surrounds faultlessly. There’s a car accident at 11:28, the same type of effect created as a car spins out into the right front, then into the proper surround. It’s seamless design, and natural.
Music, including the somewhat repetitious main theme, is brilliantly defined. An early sequence inside a church with a choir is full bodied, filled with power and fidelity. A party delivers on the low-end as much as it does in the surrounds, random guest chatter plastered all over. There’s another great moment as Morris and Russell communicate via letters, their narrating voices swirling around the soundfield with a natural grace.
Main dialogue is balanced without fault, cleanly presented in the center without any directionality. That’s fine, as the other effects more than pick up the slack to create an immersive, rich audio experience for a movie that you probably wouldn’t expect it from.
Co-writers/directors John Requa & Glenn Ficarra join a wide section of their crew for a commentary track, and remain heavily involved in the making of featurette, running 11:52. A selection of seven deleted scenes makes it to 17-minutes. You can view a wide section of trailers too, both of the red and green band variety.