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AMERICAN BEAUTY: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
Magazine writer Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his real estate agent wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) lead a materially comfortable but emotionally barren life in the suburbs, with their disillusioned teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). The appearance of Jane's school friend Angela (Mena Suvari) sends Lester into paroxysms of lust and inspires him to quit his job and lead a carefree life. Meanwhile Carolyn falls for the charms of rival realtor Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) and Jane becomes involved with the mysterious, video camera-wielding Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who has just moved next door to the Burnham's with his father (Chris Cooper), an ex-Marine corps Colonel, and his emotionally withdrawn mother Barbara (Allison Janney). These suburban lives are all emotional timebombs.

†"To have one of the best films of recent times deconstructed by the director and writer is a real treat, especially as director Sam Mendes brings his English literary sensibilities to the task. Plus heís prepared for this task: he admits to having taken note of DVD commentaries and he has studied well. His approach is detailed without being petty, and adds immeasurably to a deeper appreciation of the film and the reasons for certain filmmaking decisions.

But before we go any further, letís just revisit the story for anyone not familiar with it: Magazine writer Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his real estate agent wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) lead a materially comfortable but emotionally barren life in the suburbs, with their disillusioned teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). The appearance of Jane's school friend Angela (Mena Suvari) sends Lester into paroxysms of lust and inspires him to quit his job and lead a carefree life. Meanwhile Carolyn falls for the charms of rival realtor Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher) and Jane becomes involved with the mysterious, video camera-wielding Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) who has just moved next door to the Burnham's with his father (Chris Cooper), an ex-Marine corps Colonel, and his emotionally withdrawn mother Barbara (Allison Janney). These suburban lives are all emotional timebombs.

Mendes pays tribute to the writing Ė and frequently points out how key scenes sprang directly from the script. If ever there was a case study for the importance of the script in film, this is it. But it is also a great case study for lighting cameramen, with the experience of Conrad Hall well underlined by Mendesí remarks.

Similarly, it is an actorís showcase, a great example of how production design builds innermost suggestions, and how music (here by Thomas Newman) plays a key role beyond what some film music critics call the equivalent of a laugh track.

Mendes helpfully details some of the filmic references buffs will enjoy, such as small homages to Bob Fosse (All That Jazz), Sunset Boulevard, Ordinary People and Marathon Man. Each is small on its own Ė usually a single shot, but it invests the film with a broader framework which adds a layer to our own appreciation.

The featurette is a so-so compilation of interviews conducted during filming and lots of scene clips. The result is rather ordinary, especially when placed side by side with the commentaries. Made in the 4:3 tv format, the featurette also suffers from giving Steven Spielberg the squeezed look, whose interview must have been shot in a widescreen format.

Technically fine, with an easy menu, American Beauty is a classic and worth treasuring on your DVD shelf."
Andrew L. Urban

Published March 8, 2001

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TRAILER

AMERICAN BEAUTY (MA)
(US)

CAST: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Allison Janney, Peter Gallagher, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley and Chris Cooper

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

DVD RELEASE: March 7, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES
Behind the scenes featurette
Audio commentary with Sam Mendes and writer Alan Ball
Storyboard presentation with Sam Mendes and DoP Conrad Hall
Theatrical trailers (2)
Widescreen format (2.35:1)
Subtitles in Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish

SOUNDTRACK REVIEW







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