PEACOCK – DVD review

Over the years, the direct-to-video model has usually been used for lousy, B-movie flicks that studios deem not good enough for theaters. However, once in a while there comes a superior movie that raises a valid question as to why it was released directly for home video consumption. “Peacock” (2009) is one such exceptional movie that I stumbled across for review at DVDTOWN. “Peacock” is a directorial debut for Michael Lander, and stars big names like Susan Sarandon, Ellen Page (“Juno”), Bill Pullman, and Cillian Murphy (“Sunshine,” “The Wind That Shakes the Barely”). Furthermore, it is baffling to note that even with the backing of a veteran producer, Barry Mendel, who also produced popular flicks like “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable, ” and “Munich,” “Peacock” was never released in theaters. Now, through Lionsgate, this fascinating movie is made available on DVD.

John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) is a reserved bank clerk, who lives in a remote town called Peacock in Nebraska. He lives alone with no interaction with his neighbors. Suddenly, one day a train caboose crashes in his backyard. Upon arriving at the scene, the neighbors meet Emma Skillpa (also Cillian Murphy), and mistakenly assume her to be John’s wife. In fact, it is John’s other personality. Soon after, the governor of the town arrives at the scene, and his wife Fanny Crill (Susan Sarandon) tries to get friendly with Emma. Thereafter, Emma gets engulfed in the spotlight that eventually disturbs John’s delicate mental balance. As a result, John finds himself changing his personalities to convince the town that John and Emma are two separate people. Along the way, John meets a single mother, Maggie (Ellen Page), who requests some money to support her son. This builds-up to the climax where John must decide his future course of action.

Cillian Murphy gives his most-astonishing performance to date with “Peacock,” which only convinced me that he was an ideal choice for the role. Murphy fittingly displays the dual side of his character. First, his character of John Skillpa is a reserved and introverted person. He hardly makes any contact with the outside world, and his job provides his sole form of human interaction at any level. From the onset, his facial expressions and subdued interactions project him as an emotionally disturbed person. More so, it seemed that John’s personality was less dominating than his alter-ego female personality, Emma Skillpa.

Cillian Murphy’s agile transformation between these two personalities is very convincing and is made easy through the use of professional makeup techniques. He makes viewers believe that he, in fact, possesses skills and a thorough understanding of the two characters involved. Contrary to John’s character, Emma has a dominating personality. In various sequences, we see John grapple with his inner self trying to hide his alter-ego in Emma, but in the end, Emma always wins. Even though Emma is self-centered, she has the ability to make decisive decisions, unlike John, who wavers emotionally. This makes Emma’s character a bit dangerous and unpredictable. Indeed, Cillian Murphy delivers a brilliant performance in the two roles. Ellen Page’s performance as a single mother is equally impressive. After her success in “Juno” and “Whip-It,” her display in “Peacock” only reinforces the fact that she is maturing as an actress with each movie.

The production team worked assiduously to create appropriate sets for the film. The team had a challenge to pick a town that seemed distant from the modern world of developing cities. In the fictional town of Peacock, people know each other better than people in any modern suburb, although they rarely know what happens behind the closed doors. The plausibility of this sense of secrecy is effectively developed by the location and through the interiors of a bank that is not contemporary by any means.

The movie hits all the aces in the acting department. However, I have a few minor quibbles on how the story unfolds. The writers seem to hold onto the cards for too long that conceal John’s startling secret. The audience during this phase of the film enters a waiting state in which they are connecting to John’s double life and trying to comprehend the morality of his actions. Consequently, by the time the secret is out in the open, there is little believability due to a lack of pertinent details on John’s emotional suffering over the years. Additionally, the inadequate detail only evokes an unsympathetic emotional response towards John and his condition. Moreover, as we delve deeper into John’s past, his relation to Maggie is never clearly explained, especially considering the fact she was getting checks from John’s mother. Was Maggie John’s ex-lover at some point? We don’t know.

Despite these shortcomings, “Peacock” holds our attention during the course of its short running time of ninety-one minutes. The performances are top-notch, and the story and its characters are believable.

Lionsgate has anamorphically rendered this movie in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The movie is mainly shot in dimly lit interiors. Even with its indie look, the picture quality appears really good on this release. There is a perfect balance between dark and light scenes, and the close-ups are well defined. However, at times the transfer is a bit soft, but I think it goes well with the dark tone of the film. Overall, I am very impressed with the transfer.

Lionsgate include two audio options: a 5.1 Dolby Digital track and 2.0 Dolby Digital track. For this review, I played the movie in 5.1 surround sound. For a character-driven movie like “Peacock,” this audio track works perfectly. For the most part, the dialogue is clear and clear; however, on a couple of occasions, the dialogue is too soft. The film soundtrack fills in the rear channels quite well, too.

Starting off the extras, we have an informative making-of featurette, “Welcome to Peacock.” Here Cillian Murphy provides his thoughts on the character, transformation, and identity crises. He also sheds some thoughts on the film’s child trauma aspect and how he read case studies on this kind of disorder. The director, Michael Lander, talks about the location, script, and actors.

Following this extra, we get an alternative ending, followed by a set of eight deleted scenes and a series of Cillian Murphy rehearsal scenes.

Parting Thoughts:
There is no doubt that Cillian Murphy gives his best performance so far in “Peacock” and is thoroughly convincing in dual roles. He carries the entire film on his shoulders with a skilled acting display. With the presence of other skilled actors, a promising plot, and the involvement of a veteran producer, “Peacock” is the most puzzling direct-to-video release I have ever seen. Nonetheless, this only means “Peacock” is probably the best direct-to-video movie in recent memory.