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A high school election goes awry when Jim McAllister, a popular teacher and student government advisor, determines to sabotage the campaign of Tracy Flick, the over-achieving student who ruined the life of his best friend, a fellow teacher, by getting him fired after they had an affair. McAllister encourages Paul Metzler, a sweet but dumb jock sidelined by a broken leg, to run for class president against Tracy. After Jim unwittingly steals his kid sister Tammy's girlfriend away from her, she also enters enters the race on the "I don't care" platform.
For more about Election and the Election Blu-ray release, see Election Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Mark Harelik, Phil Reeves
Narrators: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell
Director: Alexander Payne
» See full cast & crew
Election Blu-ray Review
Vote "yes" for Alexander Payne's first Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 16, 2009
Before he became an indie darling and found widespread critical acclaim with films like About Schmidt and Sideways, director Alexander Payne wrote and directed a tragically overlooked dark comedy and burgeoning political satire called Election. Slyly disguised as a bleak dramedy, the film tackled suburban life, obsession, career disenchantment, and vengeance in equal measure, earning the filmmaker an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay, a trio of Independent Spirit Awards, and a variety of other honors. It not only sowed tonal seeds brought to fruition in his later work, but also offered an unsettling series of startling laughs and remarkably intense performances. So while I hesitate to elevate the film to heights it can't possibly sustain, I don't want anyone to mistake it for a superficial high comedy and miss out on an otherwise unique and surprising gem.
Repressed high school civics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) hates his life. If not for his involvement and pride in several school-related organizations, he would succumb to depression and frustration in an instant. The only thing that stands in the way of his happiness at work is a vindictive and manipulative student named Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). The young girl not only seduced Jim's friend and colleague, she left the teacher disheveled, unemployed, and divorced. Jim tries his best to tolerate Tracy and her precocious arrogance until he learns of her desire to become the next Student Body president. Determined to prevent her evil from worming its way into the elections and adding another bragging point to her college applications, McAllister convinces a popular jock (Chris Klein) to run against her. But when things begin to spiral out of control, Jim discovers that he's willing to go to any lengths to stop Tracy's bid for power and exact his revenge.
To be quite blunt, Election can be an extremely uncomfortable film to watch at times. Broderick and Payne drag McAllister through an emotional and physical wringer, leaving the poor man bruised, battered, and a frail shell of his former self. His personal life consists of porn, Pepsi, and dissatisfaction, his career slowly crumbles apart (always in spite of his best efforts), and he visits some dark, dark corners of the human psyche. Witherspoon doesn't play it by the book either. She portrays Tracy as an unstoppable, domineering force whose sexual wiles and calculated schemes make her one of the most devious cinematic villains to grace the screen. The way she delivers offhand remarks, contorts her face to control anyone in her path, and works to ensure she'll come out ahead is creepy to say the least. Best of all, Payne masterfully turns their performances against his audience to elicit conflicting emotions in the film's third act. At the beginning, I wanted Jim to succeed and Tracy to fall flat on her face... but by the time the credits rolled, I was left rooting for a spiteful middle-aged man and hating a teenager who, regardless of her actions, didn't deserve anything McAllister tossed her way.
As far as I'm concerned, almost every scene is a testament to Election's droll wit, sharp dialogue, and precise plotting -- in fact, with every passing scene I became more and more convinced that Payne knew exactly what he wanted his audience to feel, how he wanted them to react, and when he wanted them to answer the murky questions brought to the surface with each development in the story. To the director's great credit, I felt guilty every time I laughed out loud (which was quite often) and ashamed of how easily I wanted to see a high school student meet a slow and brutal end. These types of conflicting emotions are precisely what McAllister feels in his everyday life and it's quite astonishing how effortlessly Payne makes his audience simultaneously adore, loathe, reject, and identify with Broderick's character.
Don't get me wrong, some filmfans will despise Election and declare its satirical exploration of education, suburbia, and politics to be a complete intellectual failure. However, if you have a strong stomach, a sick sense of humor, and can endure Payne's challenging mindgames, you'll be rewarded with a hilarious and disquieting dark comedy that will burn itself into your memory.
Election Blu-ray, Video Quality
Arriving with an above average yet underwhelming 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, the Blu-ray edition of Election outclasses its standard DVD counterpart but never quite makes the most of its high definition presentation. Thankfully, Payne's washed out, wintery palette still offers fans more natural skintones, more vibrant primaries, and more stable contrast than previous releases. While blacks aren't as inky or resolved as I prefer, the darkest portions of the screen boast a nice filmic appearance, depth is fairly convincing, and shadow delineation is revealing. Detail also receives a noticeable boost -- close-ups feature crisper textures, improved clarity, and sharper edges (without as much intrusive or substantial edge enhancement) -- but several establishing shots and crowded scenes are a bit hazy, especially compared to the best BD transfers on the market. At times, I suspected Paramount had applied Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) to the picture, but I eventually became convinced that the softness was consistent with the director's aesthetic choices and the film's original print, making it tough to criticize the overall presentation.
That's not to say I didn't encounter any technical mishaps. The image is frequently dotted with white and black print specks, noise invades high and low contrast shots, the film's grain field is inconsistent, and I caught splashes of artifacts on at least three occasions. Sure, each issue is minor in the grand scheme of things but, taken as a whole, the picture isn't nearly as clean or reliable as it could have been. In the end, Election looks pretty good and should please fans of the film. It won't wow your neighbors, but it's still a solid step up from the standard DVD.
Election Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's not a lot to analyze when it comes to Election's Dolby TrueHD 5.0 surround track (yep, that's not a typo... it's a 5.0 mix). Without a dedicated LFE channel, dynamics are weak and the soundscape doesn't have the weight audiophiles often associate with lossless audio. Just as it was with the video transfer, the results are admittedly faithful to the film's original presentation, but that's not saying much. It doesn't help that the soundfield is incredibly front-heavy, leaving the rear speakers with little to nothing to do other than enhance interior acoustics and environmental ambience. Of course, it's important to note that the film's sound design is so flat and uninvolving that no amount of studio tampering could have made it anything more. Luckily, dialogue is crisp, clean, and well prioritized across the front speakers. It certainly isn't a selling point for the disc, but I doubt the film will ever sound better than it does here.
Election Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Like the standard DVD, the Blu-ray edition of Election includes a single special feature: a dry audio commentary with director Alexander Payne. The filmmaker takes his time recalling various on-set anecdotes, discusses his working relationship with co-writer Jim Taylor, and candidly chatting about the casting process, his interactions with each actor, and his personal style. It's all quite informative, but I found myself drifting off on more than one occasion. Ah well, fans will enjoy it nonetheless.
Election Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you've never seen Election, point your browser to Netflix and add it to your queue. Dark, funny, and disturbing, director Alexander Payne's satirical look at suburban life, midlife crises, and political maneuvering makes for a strange but rewarding dramedy you won't soon forget. The Blu-ray edition is a bit underwhelming compared to other releases on the market, but it still features a faithful video transfer and TrueHD audio track. Neither will convince anyone to suddenly convert to the high-def fold, but fans of the film will be pleased with the noticeable improvements the disc offers over the standard DVD. Give it a try!
Election: Other Editions
Election Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Paramount Catalog Titles Get Specs - October 16, 2008
Paramount Home Entertainment has revealed the technical specs and special features for the 11 upcoming catalog titles due for Blu-ray release from December through January. All titles will receive 1080p video encodes accompanied by a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. ...
• Election Coming to Blu-ray in 2009 - September 22, 2008
Paramount Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon comedy 'Election' to Blu-ray on January 20th. No technical specs or special features have been announced at this time for the release, but the previous DVD ...
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