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Three friends share an exciting vacation in Malaysia, full of fun, drinks, women and hash. When the vacation is over, each have dreams of continuing their lives, and they all go their separate ways. One of them (Phoenix) remains on the tropical paradise to fulfill a dream of working with apes for research. Two years later, a lawyer (Heche) comes to New York and hunts down the other two friends to give some sad news. A few days after they left the island, police raided their camp and found amazingly large quantities of hash left about. Phoenix was still residing there, so he had to take the blame. He is set to be put to death in 8 days, and the only way the charges can be decreased is if the two friends come back to paradise and take their share of the responsibilty. If they do, they both will spend three years in prison. If only one does, he will spend six years behind bars... Written by
One of the most underrated movies of the past decade
Return To Paradise is one of the best films you've never heard of. It was buried in the summer of 1998 to mostly positive reviews and was later unsuccessfully reinvented 9 months later here in the UK on the back of Psycho which also starred Vaughn and Heche. Its been unfairly treated by the now defunct Polygram as it is a quite incredible little drama with some superb performances and some moments of great power.
The premise is relatively simple. Three friends on holiday in Malaysia. Two leave. The police arrive and find hash where they were staying. The third is put in jail. Two years later a lawyer finds the two remaining men in New York and tells them that their friend was found guilty of trafficking. They must go back to share the punishment or he will die in 7 days.
Its a frightening dilemma and you can't help but ask yourself the same question. Would you go back? If one goes back they go to prison for 6 years. If both go they will have 3 years each. All of the arguments are put forward, making the answer not seem as clear as originally imagined.
The timeframe is made even tenser with titles reminding us of how many days are remaining. Vince Vaughn plays our hero who doesn't always act in the morally correct way we expect him to do. He doesn't immediately decide to go back, making us question if we would either. Vaughn gives the finest performance of his career as the not completely likeable 'Sheriff'. Anne Heche plays the increasingly desperate lawyer who will do anything to save her client from execution. And her desperation is made completely believable by Heche's multi-faceted performance.
And then Joaquin Phoenix plays the imprisoned Lewis who has little screen time but whenever he's on he totally captivates. His video message to his two friends is heartbreaking. There are numerous twists which serve to further the emotional capital which is placed in the conclusion.
And by the time the suspenseful court scene arrives, you will find yourself nervously hoping for a happy ending. Needless to say the film ends with a succession of unspeakably powerful scenes. Its hard to remember a film which I found as moving as this. It serves as a very poignant anti-drugs message. Its impact will stay with you for days, making it really quite unforgettable. Hunt this down. You will be richly rewarded.
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