Citizen Ruth

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Alexander Payne, who is probably better-known for his later efforts such as Election and About Schmidt, made a mark on American society some seven years ago with a little-known movie entitled Citizen Ruth. In it, like in his other movies, he chose a topic that was somewhat taboo with the American viewing public. That topic? Abortion. Why not go, if you’re not going to go for the gusto? Payne does have a common theme in his movies in that they insight controversy and that can be either a good thing, or a bad. In Ruth he tackles the subject by walking a line between pro-choice and pro-life. And it might be said that he really isn’t tackling anything at all, he’s just trying to make an entertaining movie. I, however, disagree. Though the film paints itself as a (very) dark comedy, it has a lot of serious undertones in it. The lead character, Ruth (Laura Dern), is not a model citizen and the only good things that happen to her are via the poor choices that she’s made in her life. So what is it that makes the movie so good? Despite the title that resembles that of another citizen (Citizen Kane) Ruth could only hope to be the person that Charles Foster Kane was…

And as we meet Ruth (Laura Dern), she is having sex with some unknown man, evidently her boyfriend, who then promptly throws her out after has finished with her. Having no where to go, she turns to her only family and with the money she gets out of sympathy, she buys some patio sealant to get high on. Naturally. The police know her by name, the judge does as well, and if that wasn’t bad enough, she finds out that she’s pregnant yet again. The judge all but orders her to have an abortion and it turns into a battle when she decides that she just might like to have and raise her fifth child. This is where the controversy comes in. Ruth, not a good citizen and someone who most of us would look down upon, is destined to have this child. But it’s not before she makes headlines that any of this really means anything to her. She is confronted by Gail Stoney (Mary Kay Place),a pro-lifer whose husband is President of a “Babysavers” group (Kurtwood Smith) and it’s not before long that she is having a very hard time to figure out what to do with her miserable life. Naturally, the other side has to have its say (Kelly Preston) and if we were to say that this movie had a happy ending, then, well…

Whether you like him or not, Alexander Payne is good at what he is paid to do. That is, he’s good at making us think through movies as opposed to just sitting there in some mindless blur. His films, though not the most thought-provoking around, do have their points and at the right place and time can make a very bold statement. The film, though seven years old at the time, was probably brought to the format because of the large critical success of his latest effort About Schmidt. Payne, not only a talented writer (he penned all three of his big screen directorial efforts as well as directed them), but is someone who can get people’s minds to work as well. Though Citizen Ruth is darker than we might want to think, it’s thought-provoking and a great film at the same time. But as a precautionary measure, stay away from the patio sealant.

Video: How does it look?

While the source elements appear to be in fairly good shape, there are some scenes that left a lot to the imagination. I did notice that some scenes had a very clean look. While the majority of the film has a very muted color palette, most movies do to convey the message, some scenes looked very bright and clear. Unfortunately those scenes are very few and far between as the final score for Citizen Ruth is just above average. I wasn’t expecting much, and didn’t get it. I don’t think fans of the movie will be too terribly disappointed though, as this film looks as best as it possibly can.

Audio: How does it sound?

The remastered 5.1 soundtrack serves it’s purpose. The channel seperation is clean and clear and there are even a few surround effects here and there. For the most part, it’s a dialogue-driven movie that leaves little distortion in the center channel. A lot of movies made during this time period have the tendancy to sound a bit “muffled” or have that faked “remastered” sound. Not this. A very natural sounding track, but I would rather hear a good Dolby Surround track than a sub-standard Dolby Digital track. Still, there were moments when I really took notice. So I’d have to say “nice job here”.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Sadly, only a theatrical trailer and a rather dull commentary track are included here. Payne, fresh off his success of About Schmidt seems a bit taken with himself; but for those die-hard fans out there this is the best we might see for this movie.

Disc Scores