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Derek Cianfrance writes and directs this unflinching portrayal of a once-loving relationship in freefall. When Cindy (Michelle Williams) and David (Ryan Gosling) first met, they were passionately in love - but over their five years as a couple they have grown apart. Boredom and disenchantment come to the fore as they fumble their way through the sexless emotional vacuum of their humdrum life in rural Pennsylvania; looking helplessly back to the days when life still seemed filled with excitement and romance.
For more about Blue Valentine and the Blue Valentine Blu-ray release, see the Blue Valentine Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 6, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka, John Doman, Mike Vogel, Marshall Johnson
Director: Derek Cianfrance
» See full cast & crew
Blue Valentine Blu-ray Review
Depressing but oh-so-good. A must-own.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 6, 2011
This is my worst. I'm going to get better.
Blue Valentine, the morose, gloomy, and hopeless anti-Romance picture from Director Derek Cianfrance (Brother Tied), is the real world's answer to the cheerful happily-ever-after fairy tales that might play on the periphery of misadventure and disaster but always have a heaping helping of sugar to make the maladies go down and give rise to the big kiss and perfect romance at the end. Only problem is, that ain't the real world. This is. A sobering Drama that takes place at the end of a shaky marriage, Blue Valentine gives it to audiences straight up, and the outlook isn't turning up roses. Indeed, this is one majorly depressing movie, but through the fog of reality lies a wonderfully crafted picture that's pitch-perfect right down to the nitty-gritty technical details, and not to mention the brilliantly convincing performances of its leads. Who knows where Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling found the inner strength and outward despair to so convincingly pull off two of the most challenging leads in recent memory, and pull them off in such a darkly convincing fashion at that. No matter, the important thing is that Blue Valentine is a major success of the anti-establishment sort of audience-friendly movie; it sure does paint the cinematic landscape a whole different color, at least for two hours, and though audiences are going to feel like, well, crap when the movie is over, there's no denying the absolute brilliance that lies behind the despair.
It's bad enough that the family dog is missing, and it's worse still that the love has faded from the family. Dean (Ryan Gosling, The Notebook) and Cindy (Michelle Williams, Shutter Island) are husband and wife. Their marriage is barely held together and seems to have lasted only as long as it has for the sake of their young daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka). Dean makes the executive decision to send Frankie over to her grandpa's house for the night. Against his wife's wishes, he books them a room at a themed getaway location in hopes of trying to re-ignite that long-extinguished spark. As Dean and Cindy coldly try to sort out their differences, the film flashes back to the time when Dean and Cindy met, when Dean was a kindly but lowly mover and Cindy a promiscuous nursing student. Their courtship, love, and surprise pregnancy are all factors that bring them together, but it's all about to be torn apart if Dean and Cindy cannot reconcile their differences in the "Future Room" at the last-chance-for-love motel.
There's something wrong. Blue Valentine gives off that vibe right away. A rapid-fire family breakfast turns into a spousal battle fought with the slightest of gestures, the most subtle of glances, and the most harmlessly nasty language that's fit to speak in front of a grade-schooler yet still send the appropriately loud-and-clear message. This is a marriage in big-time trouble, no doubt about that. There are few films that are as difficult to watch as this but at the same time are anywhere close to this entrancing or well-made. Blue Valentine is a slice of cinematic real life to the most raw and honest degree, and few movies can achieve this level of excellence while not just dabbling in doom-and-gloom, but taking the entire bucket and pouring it over every frame. There's no reprieve, for even when the film flashes back to the couple's early days -- when things were better, certainly not worse, but not exactly hunky-dory -- that foreknowledge of what's in store for them hangs over the movie. Director Derek Cianfrance has brilliantly managed to paint both halves of the pictures with two unique and contrasting but in an odd sort of way complimentary visual representations that make the story whole. The here-and-now is captured in a flat, lifeless digital format where there's no buoyancy to be found. It's a very routine, very unattractive, very sterile appearance, all of which suggests a marriage that has had the energy, verve, and spark sucked right out of it. His flashback scenes -- of which about half the picture is comprised -- were filmed on a gritty, grainy film stock that gives the image some definite life, but it's visibly rough around the edges and, if a picture could say a thousand words, it could say one, and that would be "foreboding." Few films are this well-defined, visually, and the performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are the final nails, so to speak, in a dreary but far from dreadful picture of the most excellent order.
There are two performance in Blue Valentine that may very well be the reference-standard for the top of the downtrodden efforts of the past decade. Michelle Williams is absolutely spectacular playing a woman whose life has turned frigidly cold, the romance pulled from under her feat, and the love -- whatever love there may have ever been -- slowly but surely draining and now completely removed from her heart. She walks as if a living zombie, unresponsive to either physical or verbal stimuli, in a perpetual trance of despair. She's clearly dissatisfied at the way her life has turned out, and whether her misery is thanks to anger at her spouse or disappointment in herself is never quite clear, but her performance suggests that no matter the trigger, there's more than a strained marriage going on to lead her to this level of distress. It's an incredible effort; to channel that sort of inward ugliness and outward hopelessness takes more than good stage presence and communication skills. Williams channels something far deeper, the performance feeling so personal that can only wonder -- though certainly hope not -- if her life has in some way been touched by some similar circumstance. On the flip side, Ryan Gosling plays a genuinely confused but quickly-losing-hope husband who sincerely wants to see his marriage repaired; though it would seem the degradation of the relationship has been gradual but evident, he seems to be late to the party and struggles to find a quick way to save it. His character's undoing is far more rapid than that of his wife. Maybe he hasn't been the world's best, most ambitious, most loving husband in the world, but he seems surprised at the speed with which things are falling apart right in front of his face. Gosling's emotional outbursts throughout the movie -- for better or for worse -- are met with moments of genuinely solemn contemplation that sells the audience on his sincerity and willingness to do anything to save the marriage, and it's even easy to forgive him when desperation turns into something more sinister. There are certainly no winners or losers in Blue Valentine, except for the audience, of course, which is rewarded with what is one of the absolute best "downer" movies ever made.
Blue Valentine Blu-ray, Video Quality
Blue Valentine arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer framed within the film's native 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which places small vertical black bars on either side of the 1.78:1 high-def display. As noted above, this is a tale of two different video qualities. First, the HD video image. It's decidedly sterile and flat, as seems to be the filmmaker's intention. Details are often crisp -- clothing, facial textures, even small splotches of crusty paint on Dean's clothes and hands look fantastic -- but can get lost when the image occasionally goes a bit soft. Colors appear a touch washed out in spots, but are usually accurate and steady, and they certainly never appear too warm or unnaturally vibrant. Unfortunately, the HD video segments are packed with excessive banding that quickly becomes a distracting eyesore. A touch of blocking, a hint of aliasing, and one or two jagged edges are also present. The rough and gritty super 16 film stock footage looks remarkably better. There's plenty of life to it, even if it's a bit softer and nowhere near as crisp as the general HD footage. Details, though, are as strong as the film allows. Colors favor a slightly worn, faded appearance, though seemingly by design. A hint of print damage is evident, too, but it's usually clean. The filmed scenes, subjectively speaking, look much better than their HD video segment counterparts, but of course both play a significant factor in reinforcing the tone of Blue Valentine and Blu-ray handles both very well, the major problems -- namely the banding -- seemingly inherent to the source and not a fault of the Blu-ray transfer.
Blue Valentine Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Blue Valentine features a talk-heavy but stable and accurate DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. A few good natural atmospherics at the beginning of the movie -- buzzing insects and chirping birds -- as well as the steady rumble of fast-moving cars in chapter eleven or the ringing of a telephone that echoes throughout a large structure in chapter twelve represent most of the "highlights" in terms of sonic activity that exist outside of music and dialogue. Still, the track impresses a great deal, providing a naturally spacious feel, as evidenced by the school musical performance early in the film that features students singing wide across the front half of the soundstage to nicely realistic effect, in essence placing the listener in the middle of the audience. Music is crisp and spacious and dialogue is center-focused and always perfectly balanced, from the most quiet whisper to the loudest shout. Blue Valentine isn't the sort of material that's of the go-to, rock-the-speakers reference-grade stuff, but Anchor Bay's lossless soundtrack is discretely excellent in delivering everything asked of it with ease.
Blue Valentine Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Blue Valentine features a small but serviceable and high-quality assortment of extras, headlined by a fine filmmaker audio commentary track.
Blue Valentine Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Blue Valentine is sure to leave many viewers speechless. Here is a film that bucks cinema convention and does it with a unique structural style; engrossing, realistic performances; and a dousing of despair that opens the film and never lets up. This is a fine film because of its superior craftsmanship, but more importantly because of its absolute adherence to real life. It's not pretty at all -- and that's an understatement -- but it's jolting in just how honest it is with every frame, line of dialogue, and character action. It's like the first and last chapters of a really depressing story, but those bookends can be called nothing other than "real life." Kudos to Director Derek Cianfrance and Blue Valentine for daring to be so bold. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray release of Blue Valentine yields a fairly good 1080p transfer that seems harmed only by the innate qualities of the source. The audio is fine for this style of movie and the supplements are few in number but fairly high in quality, revealing just how involved and painstakingly authentic this film is. Very highly recommended.
Blue Valentine Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Interview: 'Blue Valentine' Director Derek Cianfrance - May 12, 2011
Earlier this week, Anchor Bay released the Weinstein Company's beautiful, haunting, and brilliant Blue Valentine. We had the opportunity to talk with director Derek Cianfrance about the film's mystery-movie heart, fighting to receive an R- rating from a defiant ...
• This Week on Blu-ray - May 10-16 - May 10, 2011
The formula for the classic romantic comedy consists of a few scenes that tell a heart felt story of love lost and then won again, intercut with hilarious circumstances that heighten the overall romance. For today's Blu-ray release of No Strings Attached that producers ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: Blue Valentine (Updated) - May 2, 2011
Blu-ray.com, in conjunction with Anchor Bay Home Entertainment and the Weinstein Company, is offering three Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win a copy of director Derek Cianfrance's Academy Award-nominated film, Blue Valentine. The film follows a young married ...
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