Beautiful Boy [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (20th November 2011).
The Film

The loss of a child is a horrible, devastating, thing—in many ways much worse than a child’s loss of a parent. Admittedly, I have absolutely no first hand knowledge of either scenario, so I’m speaking in generalities, even if they’re truthful one’s. I’m in my early twenties and don’t have children, much less a child who died. And both of my parents are alive and well. So, I’ll turn to a recent bit of pop culture—a quote from a TV show—to express my thoughts on the subject best. (Again, I’m twenty-ish and television is something I’m intimately familiar with. Pop culture, to my generation, is like a second—or maybe first—language.) In an episode of “American Horror Story” (2011-present)—a show I’m really digging, by the way—Constance (Jessica Lange), the aged southern belle who lives next door to the principal Harmon family, meditates on the loss of her daughter Addy, after she dies in a freak accident on Halloween. “One of the comforts of having children is knowing one’s youth has not fled, but merely been passed down to a new generation,” she says. “They say when a parent dies, a child feels his own mortality. But when a child dies, it’s immortality that a parent loses.”

But it must be doubly worse for Bill and Kate Carroll (Michael Sheen and Maria Bello), the protagonists at the center of Shawn Ku’s “Beautiful Boy”. The film is about a man and woman coming to terms with not just their son Sam’s (Kyle Gallner) suicide, but also the fact that before he turned the gun on himself, he shot and killed 17 others. The Carroll family will experience a sort of immortality, but through a legacy that isn’t remotely a pleasant one. And, as Bill wonders aloud near the middle of the film, it might have been better had Sam never really been born at all. Not only will Bill and Kate’s youth not be passed down, but an atrocity of brutal violence will now also haunt the Carroll name forever.

Inspired by true events, including the Columbine High School massacre and Virginia Tech shootings, “Beautiful Boy” tackles a tragic and tough topic often explored in film, but rarely in the way employed by Ku and co-screenwriter Michael Armbruster. The filmmakers turn their focus inward, on the fragile and deteriorating relationship between Bill and Kate for the duration, and are rather disinterested in the particulars of Sam’s campus rampage (which, interestingly, we never see). Instead, the film is dedicated to the two parents, who begin to realize—amidst an attack on the very fiber of their beings by the rabble-rousing media and in the face of constant judgment from friends and family, including from Kate’s own brother (Alan Tudyk) and his wife (Moon Bloodgood)—that all they really have is each other. And as the media attention and leering looks from passersby prove too much, Bill and Kate retreat further into a place they deem safe—a motel room where all they have is a vending machine, mini-bar and each other. Each other: to love and to blame.

Simply put, the film is excellent. Ku and cinematographer Michael Fimognari capture scenes in a free-flowing verité style, piecing together the plot through a series of realistic vignettes, which speak to both the mundane and more insane elements of the story. The film exudes realism, lent even further credibility by the raw emotion in Sheen and Bello’s exquisite performances. Their acting is so good that, at times, “Beautiful Boy” doesn’t even feel like a movie, but rather a documentary looking into the lives of two people coping, sometimes together, other times apart. Even the supporting cast is good. Gallner, who is dangerously close to being typecast as the sad and sadistically insane loner, is impressive. And although the film is mostly just a showcase of the brilliance by both Bello and Sheen, Tudyk is also memorable in his small(er) role, breaking free of his more customary comedic persona and creating a more somber dramatic character very capably.

“Beautiful Boy” is devastating. But it’s also hopeful. The film ends on a slightly more upbeat note (about as upbeat as one can be, considering the subject matter anyway). The dreadful seriousness of their son’s death and his heinous actions constantly simmer, repeatedly boiling over into heated, hate-filled shouting matches about how and why the Carroll’s beautiful, sweet, shy Sam shot up a school, and how they, as parents, “let it happen.” But, Bill and Kate always find, the only way they can cope with the answers—or, more sensibly, the possibility that a rational explanation as to “why” will never be found—is together.

Video

“Beautiful Boy” is granted a faithful-to-the-source 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 high definition transfer. The film’s photography is rather bleak, with desaturated colors and a powerful, steep contrast between deep blacks and blistering blooming whites. But, detail is impressive, and facial and fabric details are softened only in a handful of shots. The most stinking attributes of the presentation are the muted but bold earth-toned color palette and the surprisingly thick, filmic grain structure (unlike many smaller-budgeted film’s these days—the DV sourced, actor-shot, opening aside—“Boy” is a product of 35mm). The transfer seems free of any serious encoding anomalies; the disc has no noticeable artifacts, banding, noise or aliasing; I spotted no overzealous use of noise reduction or evidence of artificial sharpening. “Beautiful Boy” isn’t a sumptuous, colorful, brightly lit production, but it is wonderfully shot and appears accurately transferred.

Audio

The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is less remarkable, although I assume similarly representative of the source. The mix provides crisp, clear dialogue… but not much else. Surrounds are inactive for most of the runtime, with even composer Trevor Morris’ minimalist score quiet and mostly confined to the front. Fitting, I suppose. “Beautiful Boy” is a talky and intimate drama, after all. The disc also includes a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono dub and optional subtitles in English and Spanish.

Extras

Starz/Anchor Bay keeps things plain and simple with a basic array of supplements, including an audio commentary, a few deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer and a bonus trailer.

The audio commentary—hidden in the audio set up menu and not the special features menu—is a slow and occasionally sleepy talk with director/co-writer Shawn Ku, editor Chad Galster and cinematographer Michael Fimognari. The three men offer a decent discussion on the writing, conception, and production of the film, even sharing scene-specific anecdotes, but go about their talk in a genuinely dry manner. They’re sluggish delivery is sure to turn off most listeners within the first third of the track. However, the commentary improves as it goes along with an appropriate amount of insight into the crews handing of such difficult subject matter. If you do make it through the early parts, you’ll find this worth your time.

A deleted scenes reel (1.78:1 1080p, 2 minutes 6 seconds) contains three exorcised scenes from the film, presented without color-correction and complete with timecode. There’s really nothing interesting here—an unpleasant confrontation at the supermarket, Kate setting the dinner table, and Bill at the gym playing tennis—and all of the scenes, mere extensions really, were wisely cut.

The original theatrical trailer for “Beautiful Boy” (1.78:1 1080p, 1 minute 59 seconds) has also been included.

A bonus trailer promoting the forthcoming Blu-ray and DVD release of Renny Harlin’s “5 Days of War” (2.40:1 widescreen 1080p, 2 minutes 28 seconds) plays before the menu.

Packaging

“Beautiful Boy” arrives on blu-ray courtesy of Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. The single layered BD-25 is packaged in an eco-case and is locked to Region A.

Overall

I suppose the best way to sum up Shawn Ku’s “Beautiful Boy” is devastatingly hopeful, although powerful works too. The film is a beautifully executed, exceptionally acted piece of wholly human drama. It tackles a tough topic with raw and unhindered realism, while telling a somewhat familiar story from a side rarely explored. The Blu-ray release from Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment is a mixed bag with good video, average but uninteresting audio and minimal extras. Recommended.

The Film: A Video: B+ Audio: C+ Extras: D+ Overall: B-

 


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