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The World Made Straight Blu-ray Review

The World Made Straight (2015) movie poster The World Made Straight

Theatrical Release: January 9, 2015 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: David Burris / Writers: Ron Rash (novel); Shane Danielsen (screenplay)

Cast: Noah Wyle (Leonard Shuler), Jeremy Irvine (Travis Shelton), Minka Kelly (Dena Pealer), Adelaide Clemens (Lori Triplett), Steve Earle (Carlton), Haley Joel Osment (Shank), Marcus Hester (Hubert), Alex Van (Harry Shelton), Colin Dennard (Wesley), Robin Mullins (Mrs. Shelton)

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It's always been strange that Noah Wyle wasn't ever able to build a film career out of his prominence in all fifteen seasons of "ER." George Clooney shot up to the A-list,
Anthony Edwards continued to work fairly steadily in film as he long had, and other fixtures of NBC's Thursday night medical drama, from Julianna Margulies to Goran Visnjic, all landed parts in major movies. Wyle, though, has scarcely escaped the confines of television.

His best-known work outside of "ER" has been The Librarian movies, spin-off series "The Librarians", "Falling Skies", and Pirates of Silicon Valley, all of it made for TNT, the cable network that syndicated "ER" more than any other. Yes, Wyle popped up briefly in A Few Good Men (pre-"ER") and Donnie Darko (mid-"ER"), but he's always been considered first and foremost a television actor, which is really unusual, considering that during "ER", Wyle seemed to be a perfect fit in age, race, and gender for most of filmdom's leading roles. In addition to the clout and goodwill that comes from being a focal part of a highly-regarded, long-running show, Wyle has displayed genuine talent, unlike some TV actors who can thank good looks for their success. Not that you'd know it from his eight winless Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.

Leonard Shuler (Noah Wyle) and Travis Shelton (Jeremy Irvine) go metal detecting for Civil War artifacts on an old North Carolina battleground in "The World Made Straight."

Wyle takes top billing and the second biggest role in The World Made Straight, a film that barely played in theaters last month before hitting Blu-ray and DVD this week. Adapted from Ron Rash's 2006 novel of the same name, the film is set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina in the mid-1970s. In an early scene, teenaged protagonist Travis Shelton (Jeremy Irvine, the human lead of Steven Spielberg's War Horse) has a mutual parting of ways with the grocery store that employed him as shelf stocker and cashier. On his way home, he finds and digs up some plants from a large crop of marijuana. On a tip from his friend (portly former child star Haley Joel Osment), Travis brings the weed to Leonard Shuler (Wyle), a dealer and disgraced former professor whom he is able to negotiate a sale of up to $50.

When Travis goes back to dig up more of the marijuana, he gets his foot caught in a bear trap and is introduced to the father (Steve Earle) and son (Marcus Hester) behind the crop. They are seedy and intimidating figures, who let the teen off with a stern warning and drop him off at the parking lot of the hospital where he'll spend days recovering from his severe leg wound. After being informed that the father with whom he frequently clashes wants him out of his house, Travis turns to the only person he can think of: Leonard, who reluctantly allows the boy to crash on his couch.

Leonard is a hobbyist Civil War historian whose books catch the interest of Travis, who discovers a number of his ancestors were killed in a battle at a nearby field. On a mission with Leonard's metal detector, Travis even finds the eyeglasses that must have belonged to the youngest of his slain kin. Leonard emerges as a father figure for Travis, making arrangements for the high school dropout to take the standardized test to get his GED. The two are also not yet finished with those bearded lowlifes, to whom Leonard's drug-using live-in girlfriend Dena (Minka Kelly) remains in debt.

Travis (Jeremy Irvine) shows his candy striper girlfriend Lori (Adelaide Clemens) his sharpshooting skills at a carnival attraction. Marijuana growers Hubert (Marcus Hester) and Carlton (Steve Earle) are nasty inside and out.

In tone and content, The World Made Straight reminds one of raw, recent backwoods tales like Winter's Bone and Blue Ruin. It does not have the same impact of those haunting dramas, however. Neither director David Burris nor screenwriter Shane Danielsen come to this project with much experience. Burris, at least, is from North Carolina and can speak to the region where this is set and shot.
Neither filmmaker shows troubling evidence of inexperience. At the same time, neither helmer nor scribe brings a burst of refreshing creativity that distinguishes the most exciting of debuts.

The nicely-photographed film is competently composed even when wading into uncertain waters. An example of those is its use of a Civil War journal of casualty reports as voiceover narration throughout. It's a device you assume ran through Rash's text and it reinforces the history on which the 1970s tale is built. But it grows tiresome and few of the film's threads resolve to any degree of satisfaction.

The young British Irvine, seen earlier this year taking over leading man duties from Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, makes for a convincing hardened southern '70s teenager, his thick adopted accent showing no holes. Wyle is also good, playing rather against type in a role you might compare to Nicolas Cage's turn in David Gordon Green's similarly styled Joe or John Hawkes in Winter's Bone. After a promising start, World does lose some steam as it progresses. By the time its climax arrives just ahead of the two-hour mark, what seems intended as a pulse-pounding show-stopper instead plays out like a drawn-out inevitability. Whether the script of Ms. Kelly is to blame, the character of Dena, whose fate the film hangs on, just never elicits the sympathy that Travis shows her.

The World Made Straight Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 17, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($19.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Happily, though the packaging remains ambiguous, the days of Millennium Entertainment cropping wider films to 16:9 for home video appear to be over. The World Made Straight is the studio's latest film to make it to Blu-ray with its 2.40:1 aspect ratio visuals intact. The expectedly earthy images are sharp and show off a good amount of detail. The BD's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is also worthy of praise, with its consistent atmosphere and agreeable distribution of Megafaun's score. The English SDH subtitles are very useful from time to time, with those thick Appalachian accents being pretty hard to decipher on occasion.

Travis (Jeremy Irvine) appears to take aim at a singing Carlton (Steve Earle) on The World Made Straight's Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The World Made Straight's only real bonus feature is its unadvertised HD trailer (2:01), which joins the disc-opening standard definition ones for By the Gun, Automata, and 88 in the Previews section.

The scored main menu plays clips in an open portion of the widened cover art. The Blu-ray does not support bookmarks, but does resume incomplete playback.

No inserts join the full-color disc inside the unslipcovered standard blue keepcase.

Leonard Shuler (Noah Wyle) expects trouble in "The World Made Straight."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The World Made Straight is a fairly compelling drama that gradually loosens its grip on you. This rural drama offers a mix of routine coming-of-age elements and some less common ones specific to a region, an era, and the consequences of the Civil War. If the book, cast, or subject matter interests you, a single viewing may be in order. Millennium's Blu-ray is completely vanilla, but its feature presentation passes any test.

Buy The World Made Straight at Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed February 16, 2015.



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