In Bernard Rose’s Ivans xtc. we begin by learning the ultimate fate of our protagonist. Inside the CAA talent agency, a staff meeting is beginning when the boss receives a note that Ivan Beckman, one of their top film agents, has died. Everyone is surprised, but not quite shocked. Ivan was the type of person that was known for his indulgences, and the biggest source of surprise around his death is that cancer is the apparent cause. The agency is filled with cynical types; most are under the assumption that cancer is a cover story for some drug related issue that he brought upon himself. Ivan’s death has greatly impacted his colleagues; not emotionally mind you, but in the fear that the incredibly lucrative film deal he just put together might fall apart. Someone needs to make sure his clients feel taken care of, and have all the deal points been finalized? Throughout the first quarter of the film, we never even see our protagonist as we catch a glimpse of how the world truly felt about him. By the time we reach his funeral, we witness a confrontation between an unstable director (James Merendino) and the grizzled movie (Peter Weller) over their forthcoming project right in the middle of his service. The sadness in the room feels manufactured; no one truly weeps for Ivan Beckman, and his legacy will soon be washed away by fickle Hollywood developments.
Based on Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Ivans xtc. takes a cynical aim at Hollywood as it delves into the humanity of this polarizing individual during his final days. After this cold look at how his death will be greeted, we flashback a couple of weeks to get to know the man himself. Ivan Beckman (Danny Huston, Wonder Woman) is not quite the monster he is made out to be by others. I mean, he does “party” way too often, and he does not stop himself from cheating on his girlfriend Charlotte (Lisa Enos), but he has a certain charm about him that makes it believable that he is given a free pass for his behavior. Of course, the money he is making for others is a great help, but his genial personality is what got him to where he is in his career. Huston is absolutely flooring in this role, as his commanding physical presence and vocal intonation sells the various sides of Ivan that are being projected into the world. Ivan believes he has the world on a string. He is on quite the winning streak, and he has just packaged the hot new project in Hollywood. Everything is going his way until he receives a phone call from his doctor urging him to come in as soon as possible, preferably with a friend for support. Ivan has a great life, but he does not even have anyone to attend the doctor with him. When he receives his cancer diagnosis, he does not really know what to do with this news besides forge ahead like normal.
Normal for Ivan means doing blow with colleagues and clients in a hotel suite while call girls acquiesce to whatever the powerful figures are up to doing. Ivan has always felt untouchable, and this diagnosis has stirred up feelings he is not equipped to handle. He does attempt to reckon with his situation in a constructive way on a few occasions, but nothing ever really quite sticks. What could possibly be a nice dinner with his family soon gets mired old family squabbles about integrity that leave Ivan feeling defensive rather than open to sharing. Ivan seems to want to share more of himself with Charlotte, but his clumsy carelessness often makes that a difficult feat. Charlotte is ambitious and reckless in her own way, but the way in which Ivan disregards her almost seems like it is built-in to his DNA. The two are not good together, at least not for something serious. Perhaps the smartest thing Ivan does is go to a therapist for help which brings about some self-reflection, although many would say that this is too little too late. Ivan is facing down the barrel of his demise, and things do not look pretty for him.
One of the engaging things about this film is the way in which it avoids taking a moralistic approach. Of course, everyone will bring their own judgement to Ivan’s actions, but the movie itself does not frame Ivan as a villain unworthy of sympathy. We see him in so many compromising situations, but the character nevertheless manages to conjure up some sympathy that might come as a surprise. The world presented in the story is stark and unyielding, but it feels like a genuine depiction of this situation that is not aiming to be manipulative. Through all of Ivan’s experiences, we get a well-rounded look at the character that builds to something surprisingly moving. Rose has crafted a cathartic film that tackles alienation and compassion to great affect. The importance of human connection cannot be understated, as even the roughest situations can be dulled with the right people in your life. You do not want to be on your deathbed relying on the compassion of strangers. This film has many poignant things to say about the process of dying and the toxic nature of Hollywood. Ivans xtc. is not always the easiest film to watch, but Danny Huston draws you in with a complex performance that will keep you transfixed. The movie is sad and funny, tough and emotionally enriching, but most of all worthy of your time.
Ivans xtc. debuts on Blu-Ray with 1080p & 1080i presentations in 1.78:1 from a high definition master that mostly captures the low-budget nature of the production well. With this being an independent affair, it is quite impressive how sleek the presentation is even with the occasional variances in aesthetics from different locations. This project is vivid and sharp with a great amount of detail and clarity. There are some digital anomalies present here such as aliasing, macroblocking, noise and pixelation. These issues do not overwhelm the movie, but they are noticeable when on screen and it does affect both frame rates in which the film is available. The bright daytime sequences are more stable than the inconsistent low-lit scenes. The bright whites border on blooming without inching quite into that territory. The color palette is natural and is resolved nicely throughout the presentation. This disc certainly has some impressive elements in terms of clarity and fine detail, but digital nuisances do creep up here.
The Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does the trick without being too showy. Dialogue is the main driving force of the film, and there are never any issues with clarity or voices being overwhelmed by competing elements. The voiceover elements that pop up a few times are also well defined. Surround speakers do not get much of a workout outside of some ambient environmental sounds. The use of classical music to underscore the narrative appropriately surrounds you in the track with accurate directionality. Activity in the low end is not much of a factor here outside of some of the beats from the music during party sequence and social functions. Nothing is really going to blow you out of your seat with this track, but it is perfectly pleasing for the type of movie you are watching. Optional English subtitles are available.
- 60i Version and 24fps Version: This disc gives you the option to watch the film at a frame rate of 60i or in 24fps as was shown in cinemas. The 60i version is the preferred version of the producer Lisa Enos, but it is so hard for me to get over the “soap opera” effect which takes me out of the reality of the film. It’s pretty incredible that both versions were included so fans have a choice.
- Extended Producer’s Cut: An extended version of the film that runs twenty minutes longer is included here that reinstates many scenes with Charlotte, scenes in which Ivan interacts with more Hollywood archetypes such as a Harvey Weinstein-esque character and more. I enjoyed the streamlined theatrical cut more, but this extended cut does have some interesting moments that are worth checking out on a subsequent viewing.
- Audio Commentary: Producer and Co-Star Lisa Enos provides a commentary track over the Extended Producer’s Cut hosted by filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft. In this track, Enos discusses the genesis of the film, the struggle to get the film made on a shoestring budget, her relationship with director Bernard Rose, how the Producer’ Cut came together, her comfort with nudity, the one time she had a run-in with the law and more. This is a pretty informative track that reveals a lot of behind-the-scenes details.
- Charlotte’s Story: A 31-minute documentary that delves into the making of Ivansxtc. with producer/co-writer/actor Lisa Enos which begins with a bit of a misdirect before delving into the career path of Enos and her journey with the film. Enos says she wanted to make an expansive making-of feature until COVID prevented such an undertaking. This is structured in an interesting way as she narrates her story while also going over some of the story via promotional materials with her daughter. She delves into the personal nature of the film, the mixture of friends and real-life talent in the cast, the legacy of the film and more.
- Eyptian Theater Q&A: A 35-minute Q&A with director Bernard Rose, Lisa Enos, actors Danny Huston, Peter Weller and Adam Krentzman following a 2018 screening at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. The participants discuss adapting the film from the Tolstoy story, Huston’s approach to the character, the real-life agents that appeared in the film that went on to notable success, parallels to real life events, the hardships of independent filmmaking and more.
- Archival Interviews: Two interviews from the 2001 Santa Barbara Film Festival.
- Lisa Enos: An eleven-minute interview with Enos in which she discusses what events led to the film, utilizing technology and more.
- Bernard Rose: A nineteen-minute interview with Rose in which he discusses uses the Tolstoy story as a starting point for the film, the Hollywood corporate structure, the darkness of the film and more. Rose seems to have a bit of disdain for Hollywood that is readily apparent when you watch the film.
- Extended Party Sequence Outtakes: A 41-minute collection of outtakes from the chaotic party sequence in the hotel suite which runs through the scene a few times and allows Peter Weller to have some fun with his character.
- Original Theatrical Trailer: A two-minute trailer that does a pretty effective job on summing up what you get from the film without revealing absolutely everything.
Ivans xtc. is an emotionally taxing film to watch that offers up a poignant look at death and legacy. Danny Huston is simply stupendous in this unlikable role that you find yourself sympathizing with somewhat by the end. This was an incredibly low budget affair, so less adventurous souls will probably find it a bit difficult to fully immerse yourself into this world. Arrow Video has treated this film very well by providing multiple ways to watch it including in both 24fps and 60i, as well as a brand-new Extended Producer’s Cut. This Blu-Ray offers up a pleasing A/V presentation along with some worthwhile special features. This film is not for everyone, but those who engage with it on its level are likely to find it emotionally resonant.
Ivans xtc.is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.