Beautiful Boy (US - BD RA)
Jonathan watches Shawn Ku's directorial debut on Blu-ray Disc...
Beautiful Boy is an unconventional love story that explores the journey of a married couple on the verge of separation, who must turn to each other to overcome heartbreak. Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate's (Maria Bello) already marriage is tested as they realize all they have left with eachother is their shared grief and confusion, and the unfortunate legacy of their son. (Adapted from the Anchor Bay synopsis)
Beautiful Boy is the type of film that it's hard to imagine somebody wanting to see. Something happens early on in the film. It's not mentioned in the Anchor Bay synopsis but it is in the trailer, and there would be no way to talk about the film without bringing it up. After hearing news reports about a shooting at their son's school, Bill and Kate receive the sad news that their son is dead, but to make matters even worse it turns out that he was the one responsible for the shooting. If this film did anything, it made me stop and consider what it would be like to have to endure such an unfortunate circumstance. You often hear of shootings and the victims in the news, but watching this I realized I've never once stopped to think about what it must be like to be the parents or family members of the perpetrator.
It's a subject that is sadly very relevant to the times we live in, and it is also ripe for dramatic exploration, but I was disappointed to find that Beautiful Boy only scrapes the surface of the psychology surrounding the incident, keeping the viewer at arms length and using it as a catalyst to tell the story of a flailing marriage. Lynne Ramsay's upcoming We Need to Talk About Kevin looks like it will be a fascinating psychological exploration of parents dealing with this very situation. Beautiful Boy, on the other hand, is very much a stagnant drama where the viewer is subjected to one meltdown after another. It feels as though the filmmakers knew this would make for a dramatic film, but had no idea how to explore the situation beyond the surface level. There is some opening and closing narration from the titular boy that tries to wrap everything in a nice metaphoric bow, but it feels completely forced and idiosyncratic with the rest of the screenplay.
Director Ku follows in the stylistic footsteps of recently successful indie dramas like Half Nelson and Babel, shooting the film on Super 16mm to give it a very raw appearance. The camerawork verges on cinema vérité style, with plenty of handheld camera work that likes to linger and often view the characters from a distance. For instance in one scene the camera stays outside looking through a window while we hear the conversation going on inside. I don't know if Ku was trying to convey the voyeuristic attitude that the media and the population have towards the characters, but if he is then it is far from obvious. As far as I can tell, the style is just an attempt at gritty naturalism, but all it did was separate me from the characters even more. I will say, however, that the two lead performances from Maria Bello and Michael Sheen are phenomenal. This is a performer's movie. Bello plays the grieving mother constantly on the verge of a breakdown effortlessly, while Sheen's father character bottles it up until he explodes in a goose bump inducing scene. If you choose to see Beautiful Boy, do it for the bold performances.
Beautiful Boy sacrifices video quality for the sake of artistic style. Shot on 16mm film, it has the raw grainy look of Aronofsky's The Wrestler and Black Swan. It's a great artistic fit for the raw story on display, but it won't come close to being a reference disc for this reason. As is predictable with 16mm, overall detail is very soft and there is a constant harsh grain presiding over every scene in the film. Colours are also appropriately muted to coincide with the bleak subject matter. The film's colour palette is mostly yellows, grays and browns, all of which are drained of their natural vibrance. Black levels are good but noisy, as expected. The disc is mostly free of compression artefacts, but there are a few instances of debris (see the first screen cap) and some occasional banding amidst large monotonous areas (see the left side of the second screen cap). Keeping the director's vision and choice of format in mind, this is a good transfer that shouldn't disappoint anyone who has the right expectations.
Anchor Bay releases Beautiful Boy with a perfectly fitting Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Seeing a Dolby track is rare in this age of DTS-HD Master Audio. Much like the cinematographic approach, the sound engineering in this movie is fairly low key. It gets all of the important things right, with clear, appropriately isolated dialogue, but like most small dramas there is hardly anything dynamic about the track. The LFE channel in particular does not get much sound to it, but the surround speakers are used quite often for ambient outdoor noises. As with the video quality, its hard to imagine anybody complaining about this mix if they know what they're walking into.
Aside from a theatrical trailer, there are two minutes of deleted scenes in standard definition. The first is Bello's character deciding to apologize to a victim's mother in the grocery store, with unfortunate results. The supporting performance is weak. The second scene is Bello's character again, caught doing some busy work to keep her mind focused. The last scene is just some additional footage of Sheen's character playing tennis. They are brief, uninteresting, and inconsequential to the film, so it's not hard to see why they were taken out. The audio commentary track with the filmmakers is a quiet one. They spend the majority of the runtime talking about finding their visual style, camera techniques, and discussing the message they were intending to convey. They list 21 Grams as a stylistic inspiration, and I can totally see it. If you're a fan of the movie's cinematography, you'll probably find something to like here.
Beautiful Boy is stylistically competent and features some truly compelling performances from Maria Bello and Michael Sheen, but the interesting subject matter feels mostly unexplored and emotionally distant. Anchor Bay gives the film a solid video transfer and audio track considering the raw film making approach, but the extra features are small in number and uninteresting.
* 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: 11th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Shawn Ku, Editor Chad Galster and Cinematographer Michael Fimognari
Easter Egg: No
Director: Shawn Ku
Cast: Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, Kyle Gallner
Length: 90 minutes
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