American Beauty (SE)/A,B+
Dreamworks/1999/122/ANA 2.35

    American Beauty stands up to home theater scrutiny rather well. It's devastating comedy and nasty ramrod drama. The film strikes its target with the accuracy of an Olympic archer. Even when we are laughing, an adult standard of honesty is pivotal to the film's integrity.
     Surgically dissecting suburbia can be taken very lightly. American Beauty delivers its laughs with serious intent. The film open's with dead Lester Burnham's narration (Hats off to Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.) Burnham serves up the film's tone perfectly before American Beauty returns to chronological story telling. The elevating Burnham family crisis begins in innocuous fashion elevated by the wry opening. It's just another morning of Burnham life unfolding with metronome boredom, yet filled with freshness and surprise for audiences. Each character introduction compliments and builds on the former. Setting up the elements brilliantly, the script sets a methodical course to uncharted disastrous waters. Every part of the journey delivers more than anticipated. From Lester's great interaction at work or his wonderful fantasies to the frightening depiction of the Fitts family to Carolyn Burnham's breathless devotion to success or the relationships between Ricky Fitts and Jane Burnham to the hot wild card of Angela Hayes, American Beauty is unfailingly interesting.

Finding beauty in the strangest places. ©Dreamworks

     The acting is fantastic. Kevin Spacey reveals the change in his character with natural pace. Annette Bening has enough energy for two Carolyn Burnham's. Thora Birch finds great depth in Jane Burnham  Birch is the arrow to Wes Bentley's bow. Bentley's marvelously modulated performance is extremely moving. It's like a virus of great performances were let loose on the set. Director Sam Mendes can be very proud of pulling out such a uniform standard of acting excellence.
     Mendes seems to have an unfailing eye for composition. Of course, he's working with the legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall, who delivered devastating shots like Lester's still dead head reflected in the dark pool of his own blood. Amazing shot! I am still blown away by Lester falling rose pedal fantasy in bed. It's deliriously depicted. The Thomas Newman score illuminates the film providing vital emotional direction with its sardonic edge. When walking the high wire over comedy and drama, the added clues are important.
      Alan Ball's audacious script plays soccer with our expectations and emotions. We are never sure where the focus of the playing field will be and there are frequently times when we are uncomfortable about our responses. That alone is brilliant filmmaking. Mendes delivers the script with unfailing taste. This is a great team effort. The direction is a remarkable achievement, all the more so from a first time film director. 
    A silky transfer, American Beauty's exquisite lighting is preserved with conscientious accuracy. Color is consistently vital and fully saturated, yet controlled with no bleeding. The image is not penetratingly sharp, but there are only a few times when it seems too soft. There are other times when enhancement appears in use and the image details, especially small faces within the larger frame, are excessively edgy. Contrast levels pack punch, shadow images are illuminated amply. The DTS 5:1 surround and Dolby Digital 5:1 are both delivered with grand space. This is one DTS track that doe not necessitate a lower dB setting for perfect balance.




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