American Beauty (1999)
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Product Description Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening. A suburban family sinks into decay as lust, depression and superficiality overtake their lives. This masterful dark comedy won five Oscars including Best Picture! 1999/color/122 min/R/widescreen. Amazon.com From its first gliding aerial shot of a generic suburban street, American Beauty moves with a mesmerizing confidence and acuity epitomized by Kevin Spacey's calm narration. Spacey is Lester Burnham, a harried Everyman whose midlife awakening is the spine of the story, and his very first lines hook us with their teasing fatalism--like Sunset Boulevard's Joe Gillis, Burnham tells us his story from beyond the grave. It's an audacious start for a film that justifies that audacity. Weaving social satire, domestic tragedy, and whodunit into a single package, Alan Ball's first theatrical script dares to blur generic lines and keep us off balance, winking seamlessly from dark, scabrous comedy to deeply moving drama. The Burnham family joins the cinematic short list of great dysfunctional American families, as Lester is pitted against his manic, materialistic realtor wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening, making the most of a mostly unsympathetic role) and his sullen, contemptuous teenaged daughter, Jane (Thora Birch, utterly convincing in her edgy balance of self-absorption and wistful longing). Into their lives come two catalytic outsiders. A young cheerleader (Mena Suvari) jolts Lester into a sexual epiphany that blooms into a second adolescence. And an eerily calm young neighbor (Wes Bentley) transforms both Lester and Jane with his canny influence. Credit another big-screen newcomer, English theatrical director Sam Mendes, with expertly juggling these potentially disjunctive elements into a superb ensemble piece that achieves a stylized pace without lapsing into transparent self-indulgence. Mendes has shrewdly insured his success with a solid crew of stage veterans, yet he's also made an inspired discovery in Bentley, whose Ricky Fitts becomes a fulcrum for both plot and theme. Cinematographer Conrad Hall's sumptuous visual design further elevates the film, infusing the beige interiors of the Burnhams' lives with vivid bursts of deep crimson, the color of roses--and of blood. --Sam Sutherland Additional Features Given American Beauty's critical and box office reception, it's not surprising that cast and crew commentaries supplied in the DVD Awards Edition carry a self-congratulatory vigor, not just in the studio's featurette on the making of the film, but in the disc's special narrative content. On DVD American Beauty balances these supplemental components against the disc-space requirements for DTS digital audio as well as Dolby digital tracks. Even with that constraint, however, the disc inserts over three hours of additional content: a commentary track with screenwriter Alan Ball and director Sam Mendes illuminates how Ball's script was translated into Mendes's vision; a storyboard feature walks through the film's visual design, with Mendes and veteran cinematographer Conrad L. Hall dissecting its use of composition, color, special effects, and film and video stock; and viewers can scroll through the script itself in a special split-screen feature accessible in DVD-ROM drives. In addition to other online DVD-ROM options, the package includes production notes, two theatrical trailers, and biographies of cast and crew--all allowing DVD owners to follow the movie's ad slogan, "Look closer," quite literally. --Sam Sutherland