Plot: What’s it about?
This present year has been a big one for writer-director Alexander Payne and his collaboration with writer Jim Taylor. Through their teamwork they have managed four feature films, all of which Payne has directed. The latter three garnering at least one Oscar nomination. Their talent was solidified when their little film this year called Sideways dominated the critical mass leading to a solid award season for them. Before their journey to the California wine country, they honed a different road tale about a man who comes to terms with his imperfections and his place in this world when certain circumstances come his way unexpectedly. This story isn’t about some regular joe or some bum off the street. As a matter of fact, it’s About Schmidt.
The clock is ticking and when it reaches 5:00 Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) has officially ended his work week and officially started his retirement as an actuary in the Woodmen building. Upon making this decision, Warren prepares for a lifetime after work. His life is given a curve when a few unexpected events come into his life and with his daughter’s wedding approaching, Schmidt goes on the road where he finds out many things about himself that he didn’t realize before and the only voice that could hear his most honest thoughts is a young orphan in Africa named Ndugu, who Warren writes to from time to time.
This is another solid character piece and another solid performance by Jack Nicholson. As Schmidt, Nicholson tries to show just how much of a human being Schmidt is and tries to do the best that he can despite the complications that seem to almost roadblock his life. No matter what happens, Schmidt knows he’s made some mistakes in his life and wants the best for the ones close to him and the people he encounters along the way.
The film does take a lighter turn thanks to Kathy Bates, in a well deserved Oscar nominated performance, playing the mother of the groom. Whenever she’s onscreen, she presents an amusement of freedom that Warren had never encountered in the most humorous way. She brings a bright light to this flickering man and she livens him up despite his wishes against the marriage.
If it’s one element that is evident in Payne and Taylor’s films, it’s showing that a man can have one flaw that will haunt them for the entire picture and that in that flaw, it is evident that life must go on as well as the character and towards the end that flaw can be dealt with and a clearer path could be met. This viewer felt he was shaking hands with this character and felt that like some of the people that Schmidt encountered, it was very nice to meet him. Good character pieces stand the test of time and About Schmidt is about as good as it gets.
Video: How does it look?
About Schmidt is given the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen treatment and though it’s a departure from Payne-Taylor’s wide work in Election, it does present a palette of muted colors and a sense of the road and the transfer is flawless. There isn’t a speck or a bit of grain as New Line gives an excellent print that does the film a lot of justice and retains the documentary feel without getting too shaky or too grainy. A solid transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 isn’t put to much use as the film is more of a verbal experience than a sound assemblage but one thing that does kick it into gear is the score by Rolf Kent which has a familiar feel but certainly makes it his own as the scores he’s done, as well as the use of music, for the Payne-Taylor films has been evidence that we have a great film score composer in the making (He was robbed this year for Sideways). The score comes in at some booming times of the film and that combined with the dialogue is nicely balanced and though is not much to demonstrate on a high quality home theater, it is a very good track that makes use of all channels. This disc also has an English 2.0 and DTS track as well as English and Spanish Subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
After the solid job on the Election DVD, this viewer was hoping that director Alexander Payne had another audio commentary. Unfortunately, this was not to be. It would’ve been a great addition. On that DVD, the commentary was on but the trailer was not. In this case, the reverse has happened. The theatrical trailer is included as well as trailers for I Am Sam and Unconditional Love.
As for the rest of the extras, there are nine deleted scenes but not without Payne’s inclusion as he gives a text introduction to the area on the DVD as well as an explanation to each scene as to where they were included in the film and why they were taken out in the final film. There are some great explanations (particularly the scene with the supermarket) as well as at least one scene that should’ve been kept in the film dealing with Schmidt’s daughter which brought Hope Davis’ performance as the daughter up a bit and gave more of an caring side to her otherwise tolerant character. All range from interesting to understandable and they are a nice addition.
Last but certainly not least is a most intriguing piece called the Woodman Tower Sequences and they are 5 little shorts done by crew members on the film after so much footage of it was left. Here the director gives a text introduction as to the inclusion and shows the creativity amongst the crew members shorts as they give five different takes on the footage. They range from average to amusing and this viewer likes to see opportunities given to the ones that are not always seen but have a vision, an eye and a knack to try something creative and this is evident in this section of the DVD.
In conclusion, About Schmidt is another interesting chapter in the Payne-Taylor films and a most intriguing DVD that even lacking a commentary doesn’t lack creativity.