Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) stars as George, a Glasgow bus driver who risks his job by giving a free ride to a beautiful Nicaraguan woman with no money. From the moment that he sees her, George becomes infatuated.
Back in 1969, director Ken Loach made one of the best coming of age films, which is currently ranked in the number seven spot of ten films for the British Film Institute. That movie is called 'Kes' and is about a boy and his falcon. Criterion even added it to their collection. It was then that Mr. Loach came into the spotlight from directing television series to feature films and fell into his own unique style, which was focusing more on characters than anything else, really.
Over the years, Loach has shown us the good and bad sides of ourselves, usually using some sort of political or social backdrop to tell his story, which is the case in his 1996 film 'Carla's Song'. This film is almost like two films in one, as it drastically takes a turn mid way through and offers up something different. The film follows a Scottish bus driver named George (Robert Carlyle), who wants more out of life than driving a bus and coming home to his fiancé. He seems to be a good man and thoughtful as he allows people who can't pay the bus fare on his ride. Perhaps he feels like a superhero to them, making the world a better place for people less fortunate than him.
He soon crosses paths with a Nicaraguan woman named Carla (Oyanka Cabezas), who he immediately seems very fond of, even though she can't afford to pay the fare for his bus, but he looks the other way. After their first encounter, he begins to see her everywhere, which we soon realize he is pretty much stalking her. He never releases a creepy vibe, but we all know it's there, as he is very persistent to get to know her without being violent. It's a very strange and odd feeling to watch this character unfold, as we might expect something awkward or sadistic to happen at any moment.
Even when Carla pushes away his advances and tells George that she has a boyfriend back in Nicaragua that she hasn't seen in a while, he buys her and himself tickets to go find him, even though they are having a very weird love affair. This is where the film changes, as these two people enter Nicaragua during the U.S. backed Contra war against the Sandinistas. George finally sees all of the horrible chaos and destruction that Carla has been through by traveling to her home, as they look for her family and lover.
This is where George sees Carla for who she really is, and it takes a toll on him. Carlyle is great in this role and very different from his work in 'Trainspotting' and '28 Weeks Later'. You never know if you want to like or root for George, and Carlyle plays this mysterious "every man" to a tee. While the acting is spot on, the story and narrative loses its balance from time to time here. It's hard to focus on the first half of the film, and then change into something as drastic and chaotic as these two characters wander the streets of a war torn Nicaragua. Loach does tend to surprise us though with the abnormal ending and twists, which most filmmakers and studio executives today would not allow, which makes 'Carla's Song' such a unique film, despite its flaws.
'Carla's Song' comes with a decent 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This image really doesn't pop off screen at any particular moment as it is centered mostly in darker war torn situations. You can add to that, this is definitely a happy-go lucky film full of sunshine and laughter. That being said, this picture looks true to its original format and look, with a nice layer of grain keeping it in its filmic state.
Detail is sharp during close-up moments, showing off facial features and clothing textures, but in wider shots or in lower lit scenes, the image tends to get softer. It's not a major disappointment by any means, but it's noticeable. Again, colors are not bright and vibrant, but rather true in nature in these harsh times throughout the film, but are well balanced and never vague or faded. Black levels are deep and the skin tones are always natural. There are some minor issues with video noise and aliasing, but other than that, this video presentation looks good for what it is, leaving it with solid marks.
This release comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix as well as a music only 2.0 track. The sound effects and ambient war noises here do sound good, but never pack a punch like they should given the circumstances in the film. Everything sounds a bit soft for being a turbulent movie. There are moments where we get a glimpse of some of the action through the front speakers, which are layered and balanced, but the volume isn't there to immerse us in the brutality.
The score sounds great though and always adds to the emotion and suspense of the film, though there are some problems with all of the sound elements trying to vie for the top spot. There are moments where the sound effects, score, and dialogue come together, and it never quite works as there are problems with what should be prioritized here. Dialogue is clear and at time difficult to follow, given the strong accents. Unfortunately, there are zero subtitles to help with that. Lastly, there are no major problems with pops, cracks, or hiss, leaving this audio presentation with okay marks.
Audio Commentary - Here we have director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty discussing their 20-year old film. It didn't seem like they had a lot to talk about because there are some big gaps in between them talking, but when they do, they offer up some useful information about making the movie, including casting, anecdotes from the set, and the title.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 12 Mins.) - In the commentary track, Loach tells us that this version of the film was cut for pacing problems, and these are the scenes that were cut, which mostly consists of George and his family, which are unseen in this version.
Isolated Score Track - If you want to listen to the music only in the film and MST3K the lines here, this is your opportunity to do so.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
'Carla's Song' is a rather slow paced character study of two lonely people who happen to cross paths in a bizarre way and head into a chaotic abyss of social and political destruction. Both Carlyle and Cabezas turn in amazing performances here, but the story runs off on tangents failing to keep a good cohesive structure. The video and audio presentations both have decent and commendable aspects and the few extras are worth watching and listening to if you're a fan of the film. Despite its flaws, 'Carla's Song' is worth a look.