American Beauty, Blu-ray (1999/2010)

by | Sep 24, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

American Beauty, Blu-ray (1999/2010)

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Chris Cooper
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Alan Ball
Studio: DreamWorks/Paramount 07480 Sapphire Series [9/21/10]
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, french, Portuguese, Spanish
Extras: 2 Theatrical trailers in HD, Commentary track by director and screenwriter, “American Beauty: Look Closer…” featurette, Storyboard presentation. Still gallery
Length: 122 minutes
Rating: *****

Truly one of the greatest American feature films ever, American Beauty won five Academy Awards in 1999, including Best Picture. It fully deserves the excellent picture quality and sound of this fine Blu-ray reissue (as well as the excellent featurette in the extras). It was the first feature film for theater director Mendes, and he rehearsed the actors for some time prior to shooting just as though doing live theater.  The results are all on the screen – everyone in the film is terrific and believable in their parts.

American Beauty is a dark and intelligent portrayal of dysfunctional suburban life, but light years ahead of the sort one sees on today’s TV sitcoms. In some ways Lester’s (Kevin Spacey) family reminded me of the one in Ang Lee’s Ice Storm, but that was something of a downer and American Beauty is done so perfectly you can’t feel depressed even though Lester comes to a bad end just when he has discovered himself and seems finally happy. (After all, his voiceover from the beginning of the film makes it clear he is dead though narrating his life for us.)

The other characters include his wife (Annette Bening), who is a real estate saleslady obsessed with appearances and financial success. Their daughter has the moon face of the daughter in the Addams Family, and is completely disconnected from her parents. She is attracted to the neighbor son Ricky, who videos everything around him and sells pot on the side to finance his hobby. His father (Chris Cooper) is a rigid army man with a big gun collection and his mother is even more comatose than Lester at the start. Lester’s attraction to the sexy girlfriend of his daughter brings him out of his funk. He quits his boring job and blackmails his boss for a small fortune. He starts to jog and exercise, as well as smoking pot. His wife is meanwhile having an affair with a more successful real estate salesman who is also running for office. Lester takes a job at a drive-thru fast food place and serves their items to his wife and lover who drive up while smooching in her car in a hilarious scene. The visual theme of rose petals is used thruout the film, the red providing a strong contrast to the boring colors surrounding Lester. 

This is a film with so many layers it requires multiple viewings. The seemingly perfect couple in the seemingly perfect neighborhood turn out to be not at all that. A recurring theme is the video Ricky has a video shot of a paper bag blowing around in the wind, which you will agree is just beautiful as he feels it is, by the end of this magnificent film. The documentary featurette on the filming as well as the commentary track mostly by Mendes are very worth seeing and hearing.

— John Sunier

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