Judge Gordon Sullivan is afraid of malls.
Our review of Beautiful (Blu-Ray), published August 5th, 2010, is also available.
Some secrets are best left buried.
It's weird how people move. There were mostly agrarian towns with few major cities, and then industrialization brought a huge population spurt in the cities. Many people realized this wasn't the best way to live, so suburbs were born. They tried to provide the best of both worlds: the convenience and commerce of the cities with the space and low crime of the country. I've never lived in a suburb, but based on what I see in television and film, the suburb is a failed experiment. Whether it's Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Stepford Wives, suburbs are portrayed as a hotbed of illicit activity, and its basically a cliché now that the orderly exterior hides dark secrets. Enter Beautiful, an Australian thriller that takes suburban malaise, mixes it with a healthy dose of the erotic and sticks it in a coming-of-age story about murder. Despite the somewhat tired nature of the story, the film succeeds because of its electric atmosphere and solid performances.
Another young girl has disappeared from the neighborhood of Sunshine Hills. Everyone suspects the occupants of the seedy looking house down the block. Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is a sexy young seductress, and she hopes to get to the bottom of the mystery. To do this, she recruits the shy, younger Danny (Sebastian Gregory, Accidents Happen), an outcast who constantly carries a camera. At her urging, Danny begins to investigate the house and its occupants, and this investigation gets to the dark heart of the seemingly quiet neighborhood.
Beautiful is a big ball of been there, done that. It's Blue Velvet with Australian accents, and it manages to rehash every trope about suburbia in a single film. There's Suzy, the girl next door who's really a naughty temptress. There's Danny, the death-obsessed outsider (who's also a bit of a pervert) who has to come of age. The amateur detective story is also pretty old, and its revelations pretty trite. At the heart of suburbia (according to Beautiful), sex and death lurk, and they want to take our children. The themes and plot of the film will certainly seem familiar to most movie viewers, and the Australian setting doesn't offer any significant twists.
Yet, Beautiful succeeds despite itself. From the opening moments I was aware of a sense of déjà vu and just how much this film owes to David Lynch and company. However, the direction and cinematography are solid enough that I honestly didn't care. The world that Beautiful creates is visually compelling and the atmosphere is so charged with tension (sexual and otherwise) that I was willing to forgive any lapses in narrative and thematic novelty. Despite the somewhat tired plot, the film moves with surprising speed and grace from the open narration to the third act, where it stumbles a bit. Until that stumble the film is captivating despite its narrative weaknesses.
The film also offers some excellent performances to complement the atmosphere. Sebastian Gregory has a kind of Patrick Fugit circa-Almost Famous vibe to him. He's obviously struggling with the fact that he's young and inexperienced, and he projects an effective mixture of innocence and intensity. Tahyna Tozzi plays the seductress equally well. She's more than a one-note tease, but instead balances between the innocent girl-next-door and young Lolita personas with surprising ease. Peta Wilson deserves a mention as well for her turn as Danny's mother figure.
On DVD, Beautiful looks bright and crisp. The stunning cinematography is well reproduced, with no significant compression problems that I could see. Colors are nicely saturated and black levels consistent and fairly strong. The surround audio doesn't use the back channels much, but it keeps the dialogue and music balanced. Subtitles are helpfully included. Extras start with a behind-the-scenes featurette that covers the film's production with footage and interviews for about 15 minutes. There are also some deleted scenes that total 10 minutes of things cut from the feature. Finally, there's the film's theatrical trailer.
Beautiful is a thoroughly mixed bag of a film. One the one hand it's absolutely reminiscent of (better) films like American Beauty and Blue Velvet with its peek into the heart of suburban darkness. On the other hand, the film features rich cinematography, electric atmosphere, and compelling performances. In either case, this is a first feature. Hopefully Dean O'Flaherty will grow as he continues as a filmmaker. On the whole, this one is going to be hard to gauge, so if you're into atmospheric thrillers this one is probably worth a rental to see if it's your kind of film. The DVD could stand some more extras (like a commentary, for instance), but otherwise this is a solid release.
Beautiful isn't stunning as it hopes to be, but it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
• Deleted Scenes
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