Albert Nobbs (US - BD RA)
Jonathan thinks this film has more identity issues than its protagonist...
Albert Nobbs stars Glenn Close as an introverted woman in 19th-century Ireland who has been living as a man for most of her life to find better work. But Albert Nobbs is a dreamer, and soon finds that her decision is keeping her from seeing those dreams met. After meeting Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a married woman who also dresses as a man for work, Albert begins to step outside her comfort zone.
What we have here is a plot that isn't new. On the surface, Albert Nobbs isn't far removed from Mrs. Doubtfire or even She's the Man, and there is only so much a period drama setting can do to liven it. At least that is the pessimism I walked into the film with. I was surprised and delighted to find that Albert Nobbs gets the tired conceptual stuff out of the way early on, and evolves into a fascinating character study from there. Where those other characters use cross dressing as a means of gaining access to a place or a social circle, this is Albert Nobbs identity, and has been for years. So instead of rehashing old gender-hiding shenanigans, the story is able to explore this lack of identity and the ways it has kept Albert from leading a normal and happy life. It's heartbreaking to watch this naive character try to break into social norms and find companionship but remain trapped by their subversive decision. That is where the real intrigue and power of Albert Nobbs lies, but the film surrounding this interesting character has its fair share of flaws.
I don't like to dock a movie points for this sort of thing, but I must confess that I did not completely buy the male disguises that Glenn Close and Janet McTeer don in their roles. It would've helped suspend disbelief if other characters showed at least a little suspicion, but everybody carries on as if these two weird looking men are perfectly normal. It makes a lot of the character relations difficult to believe, and the melodrama all the more awkward. It was a monumental distraction during the first half of the film, but once the story really gets moving and the performances have simmered, I found it much easier to overlook. Glenn Close really is terrific as the titular Albert Nobbs. I don't know if there's another actress that could say so much with just their eyes. Her performance if full of the kind of subtlety and nuance that deserves award recognition, and I'm glad she was not overlooked. Director Rodrigo García should have put more faith in Close's performance. There are multiple occasions in the film where Albert Nobbs describes her thought process out loud in a room by herself, which not only feels like amateur storytelling, but most of it is enormously obvious.
Storytelling really is the biggest hurdle to climb over here, not the makeup. Early on in the film we're introduced to a cast of characters, the majority of whom are never used for anything meaningful later down the line. There's subplots that have no bearing on the character study at hand, and some serious missteps in the third act that feel unearned and are a complete disservice to the characters. There's cliches and desperate plot twists where the story should have followed through with it's direction. At one point Albert Nobbs even runs on a beach to inspirational music. Ugh. But the performances are the real reason to give this movie a chance. Even the supporting cast, which consists of a great Mia Waskikoska, Janet McTeer, and an underutilized Brendan Gleeson all do a fine job in service a story that is beneath them. It's frustrating to see such an intriguing character and a brilliant central performance trapped in an inconsistent film that doesn't do them justice, but I would still recommend a rental to the curious on the acting alone.
Albert Nobbs arrives with a video transfer that is almost as problematic as its narrative, but most of the fault lies with the stylistic choices. It was shot on the Red One digital camera, which I must say wasn't very fitting for the period setting. Maybe I'm just used to seeing this time period in 35mm, but the clean digital look took some getting used to. The film has extremely stylized lighting, with whites bleed into every part of the picture around them. Even skin tones give off a glow that creates halos. It's similar to the style some films would use if they were showing a dream sequence, and when Albert Nobbs's dreams are visualized in the film the effect is dialed up to hideous levels (see the fourth screen cap). Darker areas of the picture are riddled with banding and blocking. Because of the choice of digital and the extreme brights, detail is very soft and textures (such as clothing) are often lost in the haziness. The transfer does have some strengths though. Even when compression artefacts rear their ugly head, the Red One still produces rich depth of color and a nice clean appearance. Outdoor scenes look a whole lot better, thanks to the more natural lighting, and close-ups are nearly flawless.
Lionsgate has gone with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for Albert Nobbs. It's a modestly produced film and the audio track is a clear reflection of that. It's mostly pretty quiet, but dialogue is perfectly audible and kept to the center speaker. Most of the surround effects stay in the front channels, with the rear channels really only making their existence known during a dress party scene and an off-screen scuffle. A note on the sound mix: the off-screen audio has a strange echo to it, which was probably an effect added in post to make it sound more distant. It doesn't sound very natural. Now that I think about it, I don't think the LFE channel was ever used. Music only rises up occasionally during the film, and when it does it's usually long tonal melodies that don't make for a dynamic presentation no matter how they're mixed. The sound design isn't anything to marvel at, but Albert Nobbs is a quiet drama, and this audio track fulfills that end without any real hitches.
Aside from a theatrical trailer, the disc has two extras on it. The first is an Audio Commentary with Glenn Close and Director Rodrigo García. They recorded the commentary together. They talk about the semantics of Albert Nobb's gender, and how they said "him" on set. For the most part it's a pretty straightforward, informative track. Glenn Close explains some of the permutations from the original short story, and gives a lot of her take on the character's inner turmoil. García talks mostly about the script and working with the actors. There isn't a lot of technical talk. They actually spend a good amount of time explaining things that are already well implied by the film. But it's still a great source of information, even if its not a consistently fascinating commentary track, and fans will want to give it a spin.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 08:16): Most of these deleted scenes show more interaction between Albert Nobbs and Joe (Aaron Johnson), which there isn't much of in the feature film. It's clear that the writers didn't find anything interesting to do with the relationship, so I can see why it might have been deleted to save time. There's also some footage of Albert Nobbs talking with Brendan Gleeson's character, in what would probably be his longest scene in the film. The last deleted scene covers more of the relationship between Albert Nobbs and Helen (Mia Waskikoska). The performances are great in it, but it's redundant and was rightfully cut to keep pace.
Albert Nobbs is a frustratingly inconsistent film. Glenn Close deserves the award recognition she received for her searing performance, but this fascinating character is trapped in an unfocused narrative that fails to explore the character in a meaningful way. Lionsgate's Blu-ray release also has its share of problems with a video transfer that can't keep up with the film's stylized lighting, a faithful but flat audio track and only a couple decent special features.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 15th May 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary with Glenn Close and Rodrigo García, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rodrigo García
Cast: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson
Length: 113 minutes
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