American Beauty (1999)
1st January 2001
Lester and Carolyn Burnham appear to be the perfect husband and wife. They have a perfect daughter, live in a perfect house and in a perfect neighbourhood. However, the image is a facade as the marriage has been loveless for years and Lester's daughter, Jane, is rebellious and hates the sight of him.
With Lester's mid-life crisis escalating he meets Angela, a cheerleading friend of Jane, and he instantly falls for her. Determined to change his lifestyle, and impress Angela, he quits his job, obtaining a hefty pay off in the process, and takes up a job with no responsibilities whatsoever - at the local Smilies burger bar. It is there he discovers that his estate agent wife is having an affair with a business rival.
Meanwhile his daughter is falling in love with the new neighbours son, Ricky, who pays his way by selling designer drugs. Lester starts to work out in order to gain the attention of Angela and, with his newly found life, smokes the expensive pot bought from Ricky next door. However, his new neighbour, and homophobic, ex-army officer Frank Fitts thinks that something else is going on between Lester and his son.
The picture is wonderfully bright and colourful with an above average bit-rate throughout the film. With the film using a lot of red there is not a hint of colour bleeding and there's certainly no sign of artifacting or outlining. Even during the numerous night-time scenes the amount of detail in the picture is still amazing.
With this being a dialogue intensive film you wont be exposed to masses of explosions and gun fire. However, the dialogue is crystal clear in the centre channel, and although the rear channels are occasionally used it is mainly for ambient sound effects and the marvellous musical score. Unfortunately, the region two disc is poor comparison to the American region one edition which comes with a DTS and Dolby Digital soundtrack. With some marvellous discs coming from DreamWorks it is a shame they couldn't manage to DTS soundtrack on the region two edition.
The static menu system on the disc is absolutely hideous. It must be one of the worst menus on a DVD I've ever come across. Come off it, were now in the 21st century, what ever happened to animated menus? These menus must have been designed by a chimpanzee. However, the extras are reasonable enough with the usual trailers and a making of featurette.
Ok, so Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening put in good acting performances, especially during the later half of the film, but I could not really see why this film justified so much of the hype, and to be honest, so many Oscars. Yes, there are a number of stories being told, and yes, there were quite a few moments which raised a smile, but should you go out and buy the film? If you saw it at the cinema and liked it then the answer is a definite yes. If you haven't seen it then I suggest you rent it first, although if you like to take gambles on the films you buy then this one might be worth the money.
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy watching this film and it has certain elements I'm sure many forty year olds can relate to (and perhaps the reason why it received all those awards!) One thing is certain, it is one of those clever films which warrant a re-watch. Perhaps then I'll understand more about the hype.
- Behind the Scenes Featurette
- Audio Commentary with Director Sam Mandes and Screenwriter Alan Ball
- Storyboard Presentation with Sam Mandes and Director of Photography Conrad L. Hall
- Theatrical Trailers