Plot: What’s it about?
In a town that seems like any other town, lies a street that seems like any other street, which is where Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) lives. Burnham is a man who looks like most other men, a businessman who lives in the suburbs with his ambitious wife (Annette Bening) and rebellious daughter (Thora Birch). His lawn is always mowed, the flower are always in bloom, in fact little seems out of place in this world, at least on the surface. Lester has been beaten down by life and he knows it, even his wife and only child hold him in contempt. But he isn’t a model husband or father, so it isn’t like he is the victim of some shakes, by any means. He has begun to reap what he has sown, but this doesn’t break him down and in fact, he sees this as his final chance at true freedom. He has the spark of ideas, but once he meets his daughter’s friend Angela (Mena Suvari), that sparks turns into a fire and Lester starts to change his life. He quits his job, blackmails his boss, puts his wife in her place, and even meets a new friend, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who is the new kid next door. With his life in a state of total change, Lester finds his attitude and outlook getting better and better, but sooner or later, he is bound to be taken away from this happiness, one way or another.
As I am sure you know all (as if “The Awards Edition” wasn’t enough), American Beauty took home a sack load of awards and even in a very weak overall year for films, that’s impressive. I saw this one a couple times at the theater and while I liked it, I never thought for a second it would end up as the Best Picture winner. But combine a wave of critical and public praise with a low number of other Best Picture contenders (as if The Sixth Sense ever had a chance), it managed to wrangle the statue, along with several others to boot. Am I saying this film didn’t deserve them? Let’s just say it wasn’t my first choice, but I can see why so many people like this movie so much. I am much more keen on the performances than the other aspects, but on the whole this is a well made and executed effort. The writing is good to start with, but this cast blazes through it and makes it seem a million times better than it really is. But that is a compliment to acting found here, which is nothing short of breathtaking at times. So take a good movie and put it on a terrific disc and that’s a no brainer, fans have waited for this and their patience has been rewarded. I don’t think it is the timeless masterpiece some claim it to be, but American Beauty is a solid film and more than worth a look.
At the head of a terrific ensemble cast in American Beauty is Kevin Spacey, who was given an Oscar for his work on this film. I don’t think this is Spacey’s best work by any means, but if anyone deserves a statue, it would be him. This role marks a slight move from his usual overbearing, sounding off type characters, which is perhaps what secured the award and praise for him. He had shown us all he could handle the external roles, but here he proves his interior skills as well. His trademark stage acting techniques are nowhere to be seen, his wide sweeping movements replaced with more conservative gestures. This isn’t even close to my favorite Kevin Spacey role, but I am pleased he took it and did so well with the character. I know he has shaken any doubts I had with his skills, which is more than enough for me. Other Spacey knockout turns can be seen in The Big Kahuna, The Usual Suspects, L.A. Confidential, and my personal favorite, Swimming With Sharks where he plays the unforgettable Buddy Ackerman. This impressive cast also includes Wes Bentley (Beloved), Chris Cooper (The Patriot, A Time To Kill), Scott Bakula (Tv’s Quantum Leap), Sam Robards (PrΩt-α-Porter), Thora Birch (Now and Then), Peter Gallagher (The Man Who Knew Too Little), Allison Janney (Drop Dead Gorgeous), Annette Bening (In Dreams), and Mena Suvari (American Virgin).
Video: How does it look?
American Beauty is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is a Dreamworks release, so the visual quality is a given, but I will go ahead and break it down for you. As always with this studio, the image is sharp at all times, displays a near pristine source print, and shows no traces of compression errors in the least. The colors look bold and well defined, but those reds stand out, just like they should. I saw no bleeding at all, even in the richest of hues and flesh tones seem natural and warm also. Also in fine condition is the contrast, which sports a high level of detail and well balanced black levels. This is as good as it gets and would make a nice choice for a reference disc, should you want to show off your home theater system.
Audio: How does it sound?
Dreamworks has included both Dolby Digital and DTS formats on this disc and whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed. I gave both versions a spin and found both were excellent, but overall the DTS offers a slight edge in overall crispness. The dialogue seems a little more natural and the surrounds seem a little more active, but again the alternate Dolby Digital version is outstanding also. I was surprised to find the music was a dead heat, when DTS usually gains a lead in that area. Both tracks use the surrounds well and never seem forced, but this isn’t an audio driven movie in the end. The music sounds expansive and sucks you in, while the sound effects remain in the background until it’s their time to shine. I found no problems either of these excellent 5.1 surround mixes, so whichever you decide on, it’s a wise choice. This disc also includes a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix and English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc was delayed in order to work on the supplements, but was the wait worth it? If you like good extras, then the answer is yes. The sole disappointment in the lot is the audio commentary with director Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball. This track has some potential, but it is quickly drawn into a contest, where the two see who can pat themselves on the back more. This might work for some folks, but I prefer insight in the commentaries I listen to. Mendes shows a good enthusiasm for the film to be sure, but his style of commentary just didn’t click with me. From here on out though, I liked the bonus materials, even though I was worried about the commentary track. The usual production notes (which offered more insight then the commentary), talent files for the cast & crew, and two theatrical trailers have been included, but there is also a few more supplements. A very cool featurette titled American Beauty: Look Closer… has been included, which is a little to brief overall, but still offers a nice glimpse into the film’s creation. This piece consists mostly of interviews, but I think it follows a very nice format, even though it never really looks that closely at the production in the end. Next is a unique storyboard presentation, which allows you to view select storyboards, then compare them to the final shots. This made all the better by commentary with Mendes once again, along with cinematographer Conrad L. Hall. Very insight and very in depth, this proves to be the finest bonus found on this disc. Although a lot of complaints have arisen over the lack of inclusion involving some deleted scenes, this still amounts to a nice selection of extras, especially at this price level.