November 26, 2012 by thedavidryan
American Beauty – Review
Yes this is a review (of sorts) of the 1999 hit movie American Beauty. Why am I reviewing this pre millennium motion picture 13 years after its release? Simply put it is the first time I have sat down and watched the hugely talked about directorial debut from Sam Mendes and boy was it worth the wait. Firstly I would like to introduce this new feature on The Ryanblog called “Finally got round to watching…” where basically I download and watch classic movies I have never got round to seeing and discuss them in delicious blog form right here. So without anymore hesitation, as the title suggests, we have American Beauty.
Obviously I am in the minority of people that haven’t seen this movie, but for those like me who have yet to have the pleasure of watching this masterpiece let me give you a quick rundown. American Beauty is the story of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a miserable suburban father in a mid-life crisis, who upon developing an infatuation for his daughter’s attractive friend (Mena Suvari), decides to turn his dull life around before a dramatic climax to his revitalised journey derails his life change.
As mentioned above this late nineties picture was the first directorial position held by accustomed theatre aficionado Sam Mendes and doesn’t he just deliver. As far as I am aware, James Bond’s latest release Skyfall was the only Sam Mendes piece I have seen, however after watching American Beauty it is clear I have a new director’s back catalogue to pour my attention over.
The movie is superbly directed with Lester’s fantasies often emphasised by slow motion and repetitive motion shots to seize the audience’s attention under Suvari’s teenage spell. Mendes also uses double-and-triple cut backs to great effect in several sequences featuring an almost hallucinating Spacey lusting for his daughter’s school friend. Other iconic scenes such as the renowned ‘bag floating in the wind’ and Lesters first meeting with his daughters friend Angela in the high school gymnasium, are beautifully captivating and immediately pull you in to the story of sordid lust, ambiguous sexuality and mid life identity crisis.
There are some stellar performances from the entire cast with the excellent Chris Cooper as the regimented in-denial homosexual father Colonel Fitts who is deserving of many plaudits. However, it is undoubtedly Kevin Spacey, who quite rightly won the Best Actor Academy Award, for his portrayal as Lester that earns the majority of the performance credits. Spacey is sensational transforming Lester from a corporate nobody into a revitalised somebody. Spacey’s intense portrayal of an unfulfilled man in a loveless marriage whilst going through an identity crisis is a fascinating display more than worthy of the Academy honour. I haven’t seen much of Kevin Spacey’s work until now but I did download The Usual Suspects last night and I intend to watch that at some point this week as I am told by good authority that it is another classic.
Conrad Hall’s cinematography is one of American Beauty’s strongest points, offering dazzling imagery to scenes that have become now legendary in cinema. Whether that is Mena Suvari’s Angela covered in falling rose petals or the aforementioned dancing plastic bag in the wind. These scenes are mesmerising and captivate the unique feel of the movie perfectly.
The score is a further great component in the American Beauty universe and is one that works beautifully in conjunction with Lester’s journey throughout the film. Beginning with characterless “elevator style” music, as mentioned by Lester’s daughter Jane early on in the movie, to harder rock music as Lester rediscovers his edge. The score delivers superbly in the final moments of the film too as Lester meets his maker in the film’s climax and the subtle pitch from Conrad Hall’s score supplements the solemn atmosphere on screen elegantly.
American Beauty – Conclusion
After I watched the film I was lying in bed digesting what I had just seen and processing the final moments of that fine piece of cinematic art. Incredible acting performances, superb direction and a compelling examination of monotonous American suburbia combined to make American Beauty the picture I’d hoped it would be. Not since 2004’s The Machinist have I been so engrossed by a movies final act, the tension, the unexpected conclusion and the sombre end to the film made American Beauty fly instantly to the esteemed ‘Top 5 favourite movies by David Ryan Esquire’.
Stay tuned for another “Finally got round to watching…” in the coming days!
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