Starring: Misty Dawn Wilkins, David Hubbard, Kyle Smith, Dustin James Ashley, Debbie Doebereiner
Director: Steven Soderbergh
The film: As if making Ocean's Eleven, Solaris and Full Frontal back-to-back wasn't enough proof of his versatility, Steven Soderbergh's follow-up to 2004's Ocean's Twelve is a sharp departure from that Clooney-led caper. There are no stars (the actors are non-professionals recruited from the town where the film was shot), no sets (it's shot on location) and no special effects - or even artificial lighting - to speak of (the film was shot on high-definition video rather than 35mm).
What it has, however, is crucial: a sound script around which Soderbergh (right) crafted a gripping tale about the tedium of America's heartland and a David Lynch-like revelation about the suppressed violence behind the respectable veneer of a tranquil Midwest town.
At the centre of Bubble are three workers at a toy factory. The narrative unfurls by revealing the bonding between Martha (Debbie Doebereiner), a single woman living with her ailing father, and Kyle (Dustin Ashley), a scruffy and reserved drifter in his 20s. Their friendship - in which the maternal Martha takes Kyle under her wing with sensual glee - fractures with the arrival of Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins), a single mother unabashed to solicit favours from others and aggressive in her attempts to get what she wants. As the two young workers grow closer, Martha grows weary. When death arrives after a bust-up between Rose and an ex, the tension implodes.
Bubble could have been simple to the point of mundane - the twist at the end is more predictable than in other conventional thrillers - but what makes it work is Soderbergh's ability to evoke so much with so little.
His decision to employ a non-professional cast, and allow room for improvisation between the characters with long takes, gives Bubble a subtlety and composure that makes the humdrum poetic.
The actors helped Soderbergh immensely in his quest to give the film a natural touch. Their performances - particularly Doebereiner's as the emotionally suppressed spinster - are the film's bedrock, adding to, rather than reducing, its intensity. Free from the artifice that sometimes weighed down Soderbergh's other more conventional pieces, Bubble returns to the dissection of human conditions he last trod on Sex, Lies and Videotape - minus the sex and the videotapes.
The extras: There's a wealth of extras - a vital component of the DVD, because the film was also released simultaneously on cable and in theatres in the US. Apart from the commentaries - the more interesting being that by the cast - there's a featurette about the real lives of the actors who are from the same Midwest they inhabit in the film. The audition interviews also provide an interesting glimpse into the casting process.
The verdict: The emotional engagement Bubble generates proves that, even in an age of CGI and bloated blockbuster budgets, less can sometimes deliver so much more.