HBO // 2010 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 17th, 2010
Autism gave her a vision. She gave it a voice.
"My name is Temple Grandin, and I'm not like other people. I think in pictures and I connect them."
Temple Grandin (Claire Danes, Stardust) has struggled with autism her entire life. It took several years for Grandin to learn how to speak, and her childhood was marked by a series of personal difficulties and social frustrations that constantly overwhelmed her. However, as Temple grows older, some of the people in her life begin to understand just what remarkable abilities she possesses. Her unique way of thinking enables her to find solutions to problems many others are unable to solve, and her photographic memory enables her to excel remarkably in certain areas. As she proceeds through high school, college and a career working with cattle, Temple slowly but surely finds creative ways to overcome her mental roadblocks and proceeds to become one of the leading voices in the field of autism research and animal husbandry.
HBO has produced a number of compelling original films, but 2010 has been a particularly strong year for the pay cable network. Barry Levinson's You Don't Know Jack ranked as one of the strongest efforts from both Levinson and actor Al Pacino in years, and the literate The Special Relationship offered an engaging portrait of the relationship between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Fine as these films are, Temple Grandin is arguably the finest of HBO's impressive 2010 batch, offering an immensely moving story told in an inventive, engaging manner.
Temple Grandin could have easily been just another story of an individual with considerable mental challenges; just another awards-bait melodrama. However, the film's focus gives it a distinct flavor and strong sense of purpose. The movie attempts to allow us to get to know Temple from the inside out, using a variety of visual techniques to help us understand how her mind works. While a film like Rain Man stands on the outside and observes its autistic subject with a blend of pity and fascination, Temple Grandin places us inside Temple's brain and views the rest of the world from that vantage point. This both humanizes the character in a way films of this sort often fail to do, and further enables us to appreciate the fact that this person is an intelligent, nuanced human being who simply sees the world in somewhat different manner (a more insightful manner, it could easily be argued) than the average person.
I've seen the film several times now, and it never fails to move me with each viewing. That's partially because the screenplay never attempts to jerk at our heartstrings; the emotions spring from the story in a very organic manner. To see Temple battle her own inhibitions and logically formulate solutions to situations which might be simple for most people but which are tremendously challenging for her is both thrilling and intensely affecting. One of the most intriguing elements of the film is the manner in which it accentuates the fact that many problems those with autism have are generated by the often inconsistent, illogical, exasperating way in which "normal" individuals conduct themselves. It's both infuriating and mind-boggling to see the manner in which Temple's masterful mental processes are dismissed as goofy, weird, and stupid by so many of her peers.
Claire Danes has been a fine actress since childhood, but I've never seen her disappear into a role like she does in Temple Grandin. It's a pitch-perfect performance that never feels showy or fabricated. There's not a single scene in which I find Danes anything less than completely believable, and she nails Grandin's distinct vocal patterns. In terms of the supporting players, I particularly liked David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) as Temple's high school science teacher; a man who was willing to look past her "quirks" and help Temple achieve her true potential. Catherine O'Hara is also appealing as Grandin's Aunt Ann, while Julia Ormond brings a sad reserve to her turn as the frustrated mother.
The DVD transfer is exceptional, nicely spotlighting the film's excellent period design and relatively bright color palette. Detail is strong and blacks are quite deep for a standard-def transfer. As usual, HBO has done strong work in this department. Audio is also quite good, with a particular emphasis being placed on Alex Wurman's original score. In a clever touch, Wurman employs logic-driven, detailed-oriented minimalist music that nice accentuates Temple's thought processes. Granted, it owes a lot to Philip Glass, but it gets the job done quite well. Supplements include a very engaging commentary with director Mick Jackson, writer Christopher Morgan and Dr. Temple Grandin. It's an informative track, and particularly fascinating to hear Grandin's thoughts on the manner in which her life is depicted in the film. You also get a brief featurette simply entitled "The Making of Temple Grandin."
Intelligent, innovative and emotionally involving, Temple Grandin represents made-for-television filmmaking at its finest. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Verdict interview with Dr. Temple Grandin