There were 10 films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, 'An Education' was one of them. Out of the 10 nominees it was my personal favorite. Sure there were stellar films in the list, like 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'Up,' and 'Up in the Air,' but 'An Education' was something so different and genuine it was impossible to ignore, and yet it was tragically destined to not win because of its slender limited release and its subsequent burial within the crowded expanse of the Best Picture category.
I first saw 'An Education' at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Featuring such heavy-hitters as 'Precious,' 'Moon,' 'and (500) Days of Summer,' 'An Education' still navigated its way into the limelight, becoming a darling of the festival. Why? One of the biggest reasons for the film's popularity was the emergence of a new actress who is sure to take Hollywood by storm in the coming years. Cute, spunky Carey Mulligan lit up the screen as a young British schoolgirl named Jenny. Her bright, energetic young face brought a certain life to the film. Playful and sorrowful, full of life or filled with dread, Mulligan crafted one of the finest acting performances of 2009.
Set in England in the 1960s 'An Education' is based on Lynn Barber's memoir off of the same name. The screenplay was adapted by novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy). Jenny is a sixteen year-old schoolgirl studying to get into Oxford. Her father played by Alfred Molina –- who steals every scene he's in -- is intent on her attending Oxford as he believes she'll receive the best education there. Jenny fulfills her father's strict studying requirements, but daydreams about French poetry, French music, and Paris. She's an exceptionally smart girl, and performs at the top of her class in every subject.
Enter David (Peter Sarsgaard), a debonair older man who's almost too smooth, but somehow comes across as the most trustworthy man you'll ever meet. He offers Jenny a ride home from school while she's walking home in the pouring English rain. Soon a relationship between the two is formed, first a friendship then romance. David lives the high life. Fancy clubs, posh houses, sports cars, art auctions, and trips to Paris. He lives the life Jenny so desperately desires.
'An Education' treats their relationship with the utmost respect. David's presence never feels dirty or slimy. It seems two kindred spirits have found each other with their only separation being age.
Films like this overuse the phrase "coming-of-age." What does that even mean? Yes, Jenny learns and grows from her relationship with David. The world seems brighter and more fun when he's around, but is that what she really wants in her life? Is she really looking for fun? She thinks she is that's for sure, but we know better. Jenny does come of age, but it isn't as clichéd as that phrase makes it sound. Jenny's metamorphosis from a young girl into a woman is both joyous and heartbreaking at the same time.
All you need to do is take a look at some of the standard definition scenes in the special features to see what kind of an upgrade you're getting with this 1080p transfer of 'An Education.' Never flashy, but always consistent, 'An Education' gives a solid visual performance on Blu-ray. The lush greens of the English countryside, juxtaposed with the dark reds and browns of the cities is a strength here. The colors flourish and contrast is always kept solidly consistent. The picture does suffer from an overabundance of soft shots on faces. Fine detail, for the most part, is superb until one of those softer shots creeps in, causing you to rub your eyes a bit. The detail on the intricate English architecture is fantastically rendered, with never a bit of aliasing popping up in all that meticulous brickwork. I did notice a slight moment of aliasing outside of David's friend's flat that occurred in some iron work on a fence in the distant background. Other than a few shortcomings, this is a fully serviceable video presentation for a film that doesn't really require the sort of stellar presentations of bigger budget, flashier movies.
Just like its video counterpart, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is perfectly put together for a film like 'An Education.' While the film doesn't boast slam-bang sound effects, it does contain a lot of cleverly written dialogue that is a must to hear clearly. With the front-centric presentation of 'An Education,' this lossless soundtrack never utters a line of dialogue without it being clean and clearly intelligible to our ears. Fiddling around with your center channel volume won't be needed here. Even the rear channels surprise at times, during a few club scenes in particular, where the ambient noise is alive with restaurant patrons and a live band. LFE kicks in on a few surprising occasions, like at the dog track and in the club scenes where a steady beat is featured. Paul Englishby's playful original score is spread out throughout the front channels, never drowning out the dialogue, but adding the perfect mix of musical happiness to the end product. 'An Education's audio presentation, while restrained, does offer more than a few welcome surprises throughout the film's runtime.
'An Education' was the best film of 2009 that nobody saw. It traveled the festival circuit, saw a very limited theater release, and then it was gone. Don't miss the chance to see this movie now as it hits Blu-ray. Mulligan is a revelation, and the film is one that makes you feel invigorated about the power of independent filmmaking. With the solid audio and video presentations accompanying this disc, the film comes highly recommended.