Return to Paradise is about the
transformation of a lost soul, a man who
rescues himself while desperately trying
to save another.
and Tony (David
Conrad) meet by
chance and become close friends while
touring Asia on vacation. They close out
a month-long trip to Penang, Malaysia
with a reckless spree that two years
later would test the bounds of their
friendship and tragically alter their lives:
Sheriff and Tony would be pressed to
return to paradise to save an imprisoned
Lewis' life -- a decision that would imperil
their own lives.
At the heart of
Ruben's crisis of
is Lewis, the
gentle idealist who stayed in Malaysia to
study endangered orangutans. Tony is a
reflective, quiet structural engineer,
determined to fill New York City's
skyline with even more skyscrapers.
Sheriff is a cynical anti-hero, brandishing
a cool, comedic indifference and who
forfeited ambition long ago.
It is Lewis' committed
attorney Beth Eastern
(Anne Heche), who
disrupts Sheriff and
Tony's lives with the dire
by the grave interference
of an ambitious reporter, M.J. Major
(Jada Pinkett Smith).
Will they go back and share
responsibility for the drug charge all
three committed and that left only Lewis
with prison and a death sentence? It is
this question that forces Sheriff and
Tony to come to grips with their paradise
Loosely based on
the 1990 French film
Force Majeure, this
drama is a
Propaganda Films production in
association with Tetragram. Distributed
by PolyGram Films, Return to Paradise
is produced by Alain Bernheim and
Steve Golin and executive produced by
David Arnold and Ezra Swerdlow. Bruce
Robinson's original script was enhanced
by screenwriter Wesley Strick.
Reynaldo Villalobos is the director of
photography. Bill Groom is the
production designer. Juliet Polcsa is the
costume designer. Mark Mancina
composed the original score. Andrew
Mondshein and Craig McKay, A.C.E.
edited the film.
"This story could easily have been about
you or me. It could happen to anyone,"
says Ruben. "This film is about the
choices we make, about two friends
facing a life and death decision...
choices that call for major sacrifices.
But it really boils down to one essential
question: would you put your life at risk
for someone you knew for five weeks?"
While Lewis' life literally hangs in the
balance, it is Sheriff who becomes the
focal point of the film. Casting Vaughn in
the role of such a layered, complex
individual was a no-brainer, insist Ruben
and Golin. "When I saw Swingers, I
knew he had the chops to play Sheriff,"
Golin recalls. "He brings humanity and a
sense of humor to the role that
ultimately defines Sheriff."
Exploring the depths of the trepidation
and fear this moral dilemma brings is
exactly what attracted Ruben and Strick
to this dramatically updated and altered
retelling in the first place. After all, such
territory is quite familiar to both: Ruben
directed Sleeping With the Enemy and
The Good Son, Strick wrote Cape Fear.
The two previously worked together on
It was Ruben who brought on Strick after
reading Robinson's original script.
Robinson wrote The Killing Fields,
based on a true story. "With this, I
wanted to do something that was
loosely based on reality," says Ruben.
"It is a fictionalized account based on
`What If.' The reality is, `What If' is not
that far from the truth. Who doesn't
remember the American flogged in
Singapore for graffiti? I recall one case of
an Australian hanged in Malaysia for
drug dealing -- his mother tried to save
him by talking to the press and it
backfired. It infuriated the government
and they killed him. It shows how easily
westerners can run afoul of the law."
Putting a spotlight on the media element
is where Strick came in, who
meticulously researched the back story
elements. Ruben attributes the M.J.
Major character to Strick who used her
primarily as a device to heighten the
tension for Heche's Beth -- M.J. being
another debilitating obstacle thrown in
her path. While Beth pressures Lewis'
friends for a quick response to her
unappealing offer, Major pressures Beth
for Lewis' story, forcing Beth into a
hopeless juggling act with her client's
But M.J. is not Beth's only distraction.
There is more to Beth's argument with
Sheriff than just helping her client's
cause. His judgment becomes clouded
by his feelings for her.
"Anytime two people come together and
are under a lot of duress, they will find
each other's raw side," contemplates
Heche. "I think there is something very
appealing about that." She hopes the
on-screen heat between Beth and
Vaughn's Sheriff "will ignite a fire in
For Conrad, the challenge of playing
Tony, went beyond the page. "There are
scripts where everything is spelled out. It
doesn't matter how you deliver the line,
the plot comes across," he states.
"There is an essential part of this story
in the beginning
of the movie that is the relationship
between three friends and their emotions
that can't be written in a script. It was
mine, Vince and Joaquin's challenge to
bring that to life. The differences within
the relationships have to come through
and the movie is really special in that
Picking the right Lewis was critical to
the overall texture and believability of the
film. "I recall that our executive producer
Ezra Swerdlow came up with the idea of
Joaquin Phoenix," says Golin.
"Everyone in the room liked the idea.
Joaquin has that vulnerability Lewis
needs... that same vulnerability he
showed in To Die For and Inventing The
Abbotts. We needed a character the
audience would root for... one who would
eventually break their heart." Obviously,
they made the right choice.
"The situation here is so highly
charged that the eroticism is
inevitable... Vaughn is sensational,
Brando with a sense of humor... this is
a leading man."
--Lisa Henricksson, GQ
(four stars -- highest
Vince and Joaquin are remarkable,
and Anne Heche gives her best
performance yet... Intense."
--Suzan Colon, Jane Magazine
"Incredibly powerful... Vince Vaughn
and Anne Heche are particularly
--Dennis Dermody, Paper
"Provocative, powerful and emotional
-- a gripping drama torn from the
headlines. Anne Heche delivers an
Oscar-caliber performance. Joaquin
Phoenix and Vince Vaughn are
--Alan Silverman, Hollywood Bytes
"Haunting! A deeply moving story of
love and courage propelled by
powerful performances from Anne
Heche and Vince Vaughn."
"This one packs a wallop! A
wrenching document of personal
courage propelled by stand-out
performances from Anne Heche and
--Jeanne Wolf/Jeanne Wolf's
"A passionate drama with a moral
conscience that is superbly acted and
tightly written. Return to Paradise will
lock you in its grip and hold you
--Rex Reed, New York Observer
hours a day in a dark,
damp, concrete room.
You have to learn to
sleep with insects and
rats, if you expect to
sleep at all. The food? It's
not fit for animals, let alone
people. No medical care, no
letters from home, nothing.
You don't even speak the
"Despite the fact that
Lewis had never committed another
crime in his life, the Malaysian
government has refused to grant
any clemency. Although Lewis
maintains the drugs were for
personal use, the Malaysian judicial
system has branded him a
scapegoat, an example to show the
world that Malaysia will not tolerate
Malaysian sentences are outrageously brutal
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