Anchor Bay // 2011 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // October 11th, 2011
To confront the truth, first they had to face each other.
In what is undoubtedly one of the most powerful independent films of the year, Michael Sheen and Maria Bello deliver two unforgettable performances that will stick with you for a long time. Of course, I'm talking about Shawn Ku's poignant feature debut: Beautiful Boy, a dark, emotional tale of a couple struggling to cope with an unexpected tragedy that completely shakes up their troubled relationship. Despite several appearances and some significant wins at film festivals, Beautiful Boy only received a very limited theatrical run, but thanks to Anchor Bay, viewers are now able to enjoy this little masterpiece as Beautiful Boy (Blu-ray).
A married couple on the verge of separation, Bill (Michael Sheen, The Queen) and Kate (Maria Bello, Grown Ups) see their broken relationship further tested when their eighteen-year-old son engages in a mass shooting at his college before taking his own life.
Beautiful Boy takes quite an engaging approach to exploring the tragic impact of school shootings in that it specifically focuses on what happens to two middle-aged parents forced to accept that their own son is responsible for ending many young lives. The film carefully examines to what extent Bill and Kate struggle to deal with the enormous amount of pressure and explosion of emotions in the wake of this terrible tragedy, which ends up putting their already damaged marriage at an even greater risk of collapse.
What's so fascinating about this movie is Ku's compelling dissection of how exactly this couple attempts to cope with their son's shocking killing spree. As the movie opens, it only takes a few minutes for viewers to realize Kate and Bill are not leading a happy marriage. The lack of communication and passion between the two is slowly eating away at them, and they're just about ready to go their separate ways. Interestingly enough, the news of their son's death certainly doesn't help the situation right away. Although Kate and Bill are both instantly hit with the same painful feelings of grief and blame, they don't immediately find the courage to confront the crisis together.
Herein lies some of the film's greatest appeal, because Ku and his writing partner Michael Armbruster keep challenging their main characters by not having this new tragedy simply erasing the problems they've been facing for quite some time. Through gripping dialogue and intense, highly emotional confrontations, Beautiful Boy does a fabulous job examining to what extent Bill and Kate's relationship suffers under the stress of their son's death, the resulting media attention, and their quest to find out what exactly drove their kid to commit such a horrendous act.
Time sure heals many wounds, but the healing process can trigger an awful lot of pain, especially when two people facing the same tragedy don't immediately realize that the most efficient way to attack their grief is to work out the differences in their relationship. In a nutshell, that's one of several messages you'll be able to dig up in Beautiful Boy, a film that benefits from a harmonious combination of intelligent screenwriting, solid production values and a fearless cast.
Michael Sheen and Maria Bello's performances inject the movie with the power and authenticity the story requires, and they hit all the right notes in every scene they're in -- together or alone. Some of their heated arguments in the movie easily count among some of the most intense, emotionally charged, and heartbreaking scenes I've ever see in a drama. Some of the film's success is attributable to the clever material, but if I had to single out the greatest asset of Beautiful Boy, it would definitely be the lead cast.
The complexity of the story aside, Beautiful Boy also works so well because of Ku's inspiring direction and his buddy Michael Fimognari's documentary style cinematography. Pair this with subtle editing and an appropriate soundtrack, and you're in for an extraordinary viewing experience. As beautifully as the movie is shot though, I can't say I am entirely impressed with the high-definition transfer. The Blu-ray edition offers a 1.78:1/1080p widescreen version of the feature, but the image is pretty grainy throughout. It may not be as noticeable in some scenes, but overall, the heavy grain does stick out. That said, I've got no complaints in the audio department; the Dolby True-HD 5.1 transfer simply rocks.
In terms of special features, Beautiful Boy (Blu-ray) offers some deleted scenes. Also included is a very informative and intelligent audio commentary with Shawn Ku, his director of photography, and his editor. Ku does most of the talking, but he really digs deep into the subject matter of the film, touching on his inspiration for the movie, the depth of the characters, and why he chose to develop their relationship they way he did. For indie fans and fellow filmmakers, this is one commentary you should not miss at any cost.
As far as compelling independent cinema goes, Beautiful Boy is right up there in the category of memorable films you quite simply won't forget. Ku clearly respects the formula of successful filmmaking, and his film benefits from both an important, unconventional story and a stellar cast. This is one to add to your collection, folks.
Truly beautiful indeed, and not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site