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A young woman witnesses a bus accident, and is caught up in the aftermath, where the question of whether or not it was intentional affects many people's lives.
For more about Margaret and the Margaret Blu-ray release, see Margaret Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 12, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, J. Smith-Cameron, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
» See full cast & crew
Margaret Blu-ray Review
"It is the blight man was born for, / It is Margaret you mourn for."
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 12, 2012
In the time since Margaret was filmed, way back when in 2005, two of its producers—Sidney Pollack and Anthony Minghella—died, its young star Anna Paquin went on to True Blood fame, numerous lawsuits were batted about between Fox Searchlight Pictures and writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, and none other than Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker were brought in to help shape the film in the cutting room. Margaret was initially scheduled for release in 2007, but only got a limited theatrical showing in September of last year, its six-year delay from shoot to screen the product of studio disputes and presumed perfectionism on the part of Lonegan, a playwright-turned- director whose first film, 2000's moving You Can Count on Me, won numerous awards and established him as a filmmaker to watch. It's perhaps unfair to call Margaret a sophomore slump, but it undeniably suffers all of the symptoms of a less-than-successful followup to a well- regarded debut—it's too long and too ambitious by half, jam-packed with ideas but poorly organized. The film feels over-deliberated, like a painting done by an artist who doesn't know when to stop and ends up marring the piece's original beauty.
The film's title is drawn from the name of the young girl addressed in Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Spring and Fall," which is essentially about the loss of innocence and the inevitability of death, two themes readily present in Lonegan's sprawling script. Anna Paquin's character is actually Lisa Cohen, a seventeen-year-old New York prep school student and a walking contradiction in the way that many privileged upper-class kids in the movies are; she's fiercely intelligent but underachieving, self-absorbed but also keenly aware that her problems pale next to, say, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But she does have her problems. Hopkins' poem has a line that goes, "as the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder," and Lisa's heart is thrust too quickly toward colder sights when she witnesses—and at least partially causes—a horrific traffic accident.
Out shopping for western wear in prep for a week-long horseback riding trip with her divorced dad, she tries to flag down a bus driver wearing a cowboy hat, causing him to run a red light and slam into a woman crossing the street. Bloody and terrified and fully aware she isn't going to make it, the pedestrian dies in Lisa's arms. Lisa lies to the cops at first and says the light was green—the film's only plot hole is that there were plenty of other witnesses who could've confirmed it was, in fact, red—but with her conscience in knots, she later amends her statement and joins the dead woman's best friend, Kelly (Jeannie Berlin), in bringing a lawsuit against the Metro Transportation Authority, with the hopes of getting the driver fired.
This main through-line of the plot is a study in grief and personal responsibility, with Lisa naively wanting to right an unrectifiable wrong and the driver —a working class Noo Yawker named Maretti (Mark Ruffalo)—in a state of utter denial about his role in the tragedy. The film also pokes at the justice system's inability to do much of anything in this sort of situation; any winnings will go to the woman's next-of-kin, a distant, money-hungry cousin who sees the death solely as a financial windfall, and a labor dispute makes the MTA unwilling to dismiss Maretti. What use, then, is the suit beyond assuaging Lisa's feelings guilt? What would justice even look like here? And does justice actually exist if we're all just speeding headlong toward the grave anyhow? The film poses more ethical/philosophical questions than it answers, and that's a good thing. Lonegan finds much of the story's dramatic tension precisely in the acknowledgement that many moral dilemmas don't have clear-cut solutions. Such is life—messy, complicated, overwhelming.
Unfortunately, the same could be said for the film itself. Where Lonegan gets into trouble is Margaret's urban sprawl, i.e. its attempt to cover so much thematic territory that the story stretches itself transparently thin. You can see Lonegan's goal—to make the ultimate post-9/11 New York film—but his observations and ideas are too scattershot to be coherently delivered. There are vitriolic classroom arguments about middle eastern foreign policy, snatches of war news heard over the radio, and fights regarding the definition of "strident" and the usage of "Jewish" instead of "Israeli." Wherever possible—like a breakdown of Shakespeare's authorial intent from English teacher Mr. Van Tassel (Matthew Broderick), a stuck-in-his-ways fortysomething unable to see the value in his students' contrarian opinions—the film contrasts the cynicism of the old with the vain and opinionated idealism of the young. Shots of a Twin Tower-free skyline linger longer than they need to, and walks down crowded Manhattan streets are turned into a kind of slow-motion ballet.
And then there are the many subplots, several of which are unsatisfyingly developed and, in at least one case, never resolved. Lisa is at the apex of a love triangle—trying to decide between a goodhearted nerd (The Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr.) and the inconsiderate druggie (Kieran Culkin) she allows to take her virginity—and if that weren't enough, she also seduces her guileless geometry teacher (Matt Damon). In one awkward scene, she confronts him on the street and informs him that she had an abortion. But did she? Was she actually pregnant? We never find out if she's lying or not—though there is a definitive answer in the film's "extended" cut—and the sequence's ambiguity seems needless, a poor try at tying into the film's threads of ethical uncertainty and strained adolescent/adult interaction. Teen/parent communication occupies a large chunk of screen time, with Lisa constantly at odds or else coldly indifferent to the worries and insecurities of her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), a middle-aged stage actress who's recently started dating a South American businessman (Jean Reno).
Out of the clutter and vagueness, Margaret does move toward a genuinely cathartic conclusion, reaching a literally operatic emotional pitch in its final scene. You might be moved, and if the film had been released as intended in 2007, the Academy probably would've been moved as well—to put Anna Paquin up for another Oscar. The surrounding ensemble cast members are all excellent, but its her performance that stands out, coltish and defiant, broken and ultimately healed. As for Margaret's standing in cinema history, I suspect it will be remembered as an outsized and overambitious film that got bogged down in post-production hell and failed to meet expectations when it was finally released. Still, there are worse things a film could be than over-ambitious, and after all these years, Margaret certainly deserves at least a look.
Margaret Blu-ray, Video Quality
No surprise here, Margaret looks like a film that was shot in the mid-2000s. I don't say that in a disparaging way, but just to note that cinematography has indeed changed quite a bit in the last few years, especially with the progressive acceptance of digital camerawork. Even many low- budget films today look sharper, glossier, and more punchy than Margaret, which was shot on 35mm with a rather grainy film stock. That grain structure has been left intact, though, thankfully—Fox learned their lesson after the DNR'd-to-oblivion Predator rerelease—and I suspect the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is largely true to source. Clarity is noticeably variable; many longer and even medium shots seem quite soft, while close-ups have a decent level of high definition detail, with visible skin and clothing textures. The film's color palette is realistically tempered and the image is plenty dense. Strong hues are adequately vidid, skin tones are warm without going ruddy, and contrast is even-handed. Really, there are no substantial problems here—no edge enhancement, no compression woes, no encode glitches, etc. The one thing I did periodically notice were white flecks on the print, but these are few and far between.
Margaret Blu-ray, Audio Quality
20th Century Fox has given the film the usual lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound treatment, and the mix—while never particularly aggressive—suits the film well. The rear channels put out a modicum of city street ambience and directional effects occasionally waft out from the surrounds. It's enough to establish the environment and give some modicum of immersion, though there's nothing about the mix that stands out as remarkable beyond Nico Muhly's score, which features a main theme played on classical guitar. There are no hisses, pops, or drop-outs here, and everything sounds fairly cleanly recorded and reproduced, with a decently filled-out dynamic range. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and for those that might need or want them, the disc includes English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles, along with Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs.
Margaret Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray disc includes no special features whatsoever, but on the included DVD you'll find Lonegan's "Extended Cut," which, in an interview with Indiewire, the director referred to as "just another version with a bit more of everything in it." That seems accurate. The structure or story of the film hasn't changed in many significant ways, but some alternate takes are used, individual scenes are often longer, and some feature a simultaneously interesting and distracting technique of allowing dialogue from random strangers/extras to intrude on the main characters' conversations. I'm not sure it works entirely, but it does add a certain sense of realism. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the extended version will ever make it to Blu-ray, but I think most will find the shorter cut preferential anyway.
Margaret Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Woody Allen by way of Chekhov and Krzysztof Kieślowski, Margaret is a poetic coming-of-age morality play set in post-9/11 New York. Sadly, as that last sentence implies, it's also a bit too ambitious for its own good and has issues with pacing and thematic coherency. The real story of Margaret is the years-long struggle to get it finished, and for this reason alone it's worth checking out as a kind of cinematic curiosity. That's not to say there isn't value here; the film is moving at times and it features several fine performances. Just don't expect a long-to-fruition undiscovered masterpiece. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release does the film itself justice with true-to-intent picture and sound, but there are no extras on the disc whatsoever, and the "Extended Cut" advertised on the slipcover is actually included on a separate DVD, not via seamless branching. Also note that the film is an Amazon exclusive for the time being. At $27.99, the price is a bit steep for a blind buy, but if you enjoyed the film theatrically it's probably worth picking up.
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Margaret Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: July 10-17 - July 8, 2012
For many cinephiles, the most exciting Blu-ray release this week comes courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox's Margaret disc. The story of a Manhattan teenager (True Blood's Anna Paquin) forced to cope with sudden, violent tragedy, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan's follow-up ...
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