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Sofia Coppola is nothing if not consistent. The only strange turn in her career was the shift from The Virgin Suicides to Lost in Translation. The former tale of isolated suburban angst sits oddly against the jet-setting urban malaise of Lost in Translation. However, the two films that followed Lost in Translation—Marie Antoinette and Somewhere—created a trilogy of films concerned with the kind of isolation that only celebrity can grant. Now, with The Bling Ring, we can see that Coppola seems to have tied up her first five films with a thematic bow, bookending the celebrity alienation films with poignant meditations on adolescence. Although The Bling Ring won't win Coppola any new fans, it's a solid film that takes risks with odd material.
Facts of the Case
Marc (Israel Broussard, Flipped) is a troubled kid who's now at a special L.A. school after his previous expulsion. There he meets up with Rebecca (Katie Chang, A Birder's Guide to Everything), another troubled kid. Neither of them have any scruples, and what starts as harmless kids' stuff escalates to breaking and entering and stealing. Before long the pair attracts others (including Emma Watson's Nicki) to become their own celebrity obsessed version of Bonnie and Clyde.
The Bling Ring is a wonderful film as much for what it doesn't do as for what it does. This is not a film that moralizes about "the kids these days." In the same way that The Virgin Suicides didn't judge the Lisbon girls, The Bling Ring doesn't spend 90 minutes condemning these kids. Nor are we made to sympathize overly with them. Despite the Bonnie and Clyde nature of the story, these are not outlaws we're intended to idolize.
Instead, Coppola offers us a meditation on the signifiers of celebrity. Her characters are all obsessed with the stars that populate TMZ and entertainment shows. These kids feel entitled to that same status. After all, these people have been sold as icons and mentors and role models. Is it any wonder that the kids want what they have (and what their money and attention have helped to purchase)? The style of Coppola's film highlights just how easy it is to possess the signifiers of celebrity. It's not hard to take dim cell phone camera shots in a club in front of a bottle-strewn table. It's not hard to dress like a lot of celebrities—their clothes make them look sloppy, and it's only a designer label no one can see that separates their look from the average person's wardrobe. While Coppola refuses to treat her characters as if they're in a movie, they act that way nonetheless, aping their celebrity "betters."
The downside to this approach is that it can be emotionally cold. These kids are unable to connect to anything beyond the surface, which means their characters don't have a lot of depth, and their arcs across the narrative are pretty shallow. Coppola wisely casts her film with actors we want to see for 90 minutes regardless of the narrative. Emma Watson is the standout here. She's mastered the American accent, and her airheaded take on the joys of consumerism is beautiful and terrible in equal measure. Taissa Farmiga is a close second; after her turn in American Horror Story, she's shaping up to be one of the more amazing actresses of her generation. Israel Broussard also deserves credit for being the lone male among the female gang—he's got some work to do to be interesting in the role, and he succeeds.
The Bling Ring (Blu-ray) is also strong. The film is beautifully shot in the bright California sun and the dim light of its clubs; this 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer handles both easily. The brighter scenes are a bit soft because of boosted contrast, but that helps rather than hinders the film. Colors are perfectly saturated, with great outdoor scenes and various interiors (including Paris Hilton's house) showcasing deep, rich color. Black levels are deep and consistent as well. No serious compression artefacts get in the way, either. The DTS-HD 5.1 matches the film's video perfectly. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, but it's the bottom end (most of it from hip-hop songs on the sound track) that truly impresses. There's some decent surround use to establish atmosphere, and good dynamic range as well.
The extras mainly consist of three featurettes. The first is a pretty standard making-of that combines behind-the-scenes footage with interviews. The second is a featurette on the real-life events that inspired the film. Both of these run a little over 20 minutes. The third is a 10-minute featurette on Paris Hilton's personal experience with the numerous robberies that her house as suffered. Finally, the film's trailer is included as well. A digital Ultraviolet copy of the film is available with this release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sofia Coppola has always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with home video extras. Some of her releases have been essentially barebones. Comparatively, The Bling Ring is a tricked-out special edition in her oeuvre. With that said, the actual Bling Ring has received a lot of media attention, and more could be made of the events than a 20-minute featurette. I also would have loved a separate featurette on the film's music.
The main feature the film shares with The Virgin Suicides is the central mystery of motivation. Just like we never really know why the Lisbon girls do what they do, The Bling Ring provides us no answers about why these kids would turn to a life of crime. We get hints and can make some guesses, but there's more than one answer. This may be frustrating for some viewers who want to "understand" this strange crime wave. If The Bling Ring is missing anything compared to Coppola's first film, it's that it doesn't have anyone to act as the neighborhood boys do in The Virgin Suicides—no one stands outside The Bling Ring giving us an alien perspective. That means The Bling Ring lacks a strong structure. I don't think it hurts the film, but fans of linear narrative will be disappointed.
The Bling Ring features a number of excellent performances that try to give viewers an insight into why a group of teenagers became highly successful house thieves. Though no motivation is really presented, Coppola does a fine job of painting these kids and their world. It's not a film that will appeal to all viewers, but the excellent The Bling Ring (Blu-ray) makes it easy to recommend for a rental to those interested in the case or the actors involved.
Despite their crimes, The Bling Ring is not guilty.
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