Annette Bening has been generating a fair amount of high-intensity Oscar buzz for her performance in this summer's sublime 'The Kids Are All Right,' but what is less acknowledged is the fact that she did another fine job in the little-seen drama 'Mother and Child.' I'm still trying to figure out why, exactly, it didn't connect with audiences. I think a fair point can be made that its title, one of the more awful and ambiguous titles of the year, didn't help matters. The fact that Sony Pictures Classics opened the movie against 'Iron Man 2?' this past May certainly didn't help. But whatever the reason, hopefully the shortsightedness of the studio marketing department will be corrected with the film now making its debut on home video.
Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, a veteran of a number of wonderful HBO series including 'Six Feet Under,' 'The Sopranos,' 'Carnivale' and 'In Treatment' (he also directed 2008's abysmal plane crash thriller 'Passengers'), it's the kind of story I usually dislike: three interconnected narratives, with a "big theme" that overarches and encompasses them (in case you couldn't tell, it's something about the universality of the relationship between mother and child, no matter the situation).
One storyline has Annette Bening looking for the child she gave up for adoption when she was 14 years old (and learning to love life, and a man, played by a roly-poly Jimmy Smits, again); the second storyline concerns Bening's daughter, now a grown woman played by Naomi Watts who has an affair with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson) and, in one of those cosmic twists only acceptable in real life and bad fiction, becomes pregnant herself; in the third, only tangentially related section, a young woman (Kerry Washington) is facing problems getting pregnant so she decides to adopt, leading to the dissolution of her marriage.
How, exactly, these elements intertwine is one of the pleasures of 'Mother and Child,' and I wouldn't want to give any of that away here. All of the actors and actresses, however, are at the top of their game. Bening is just as deserved of an Oscar for her work here as in 'The Kids Are All Right,' and Watts and Washington deliver performances that could easily be slotted into the Best Supporting Actress category. Even the men, particularly Samuel L. Jackson in a role that doesn't require him to scream profanities or deal with snakes on or off a plane, conjures a nuanced and dimensional personality here. Director Garcia, working that shaky ground between genuine pathos and overblown melodrama, tells the story cleanly – there's nothing flashy about the cinematography (most shots are static) or editing; everything's very plainspoken and matter-of-fact. At times the movie threatens to become too much – too sad, too overwhelming – but Garcia stops things from ever going over-the-top, and actually manages to make the ending somewhat upbeat and optimistic.
Even if you want to try and pass 'Mother and Child' off as an "old fashioned weepy," well, that's all well and good, but there's too much wonderful stuff in this movie to totally let that be your guide. The performances, the filmmaking, and the attempt to address an issue as complicated as motherhood and fertility in a way that is even remotely uplifting and relevant, should be commended. It isn't a perfect movie, by any stretch of the imagination, and yes, it's just a bit too long, but if you're looking for a solid drama that grown-ups can appreciate (as opposed to a movie like 'Grown Ups,' a comedy that no one can appreciate), then you should adopt 'Mother and Child.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Mother and Child' comes to high definition courtesy of Sony. This is a 50GB Blu-ray disc that is BD-Live enabled but, at the time of this review, has not been utilized for any additional content or features. The disc is Region A locked.
You wouldn't expect it, but the MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 2.35:1) is one of the better transfers I've seen in quite some time.
The film was shot on digital and this looks like a direct-from-the-digital-source transfer, i.e. one without even the slightest blemish or technical issue. Everything about the transfer is great – skin tones look good, black levels are deep and dark, and although the film features an incredibly muted color palette, when things do pop out, they really pop (Washington works as a confectioner, so there are some amazing, sugary colors).
All the hallmarks of a great digital transfer are here too: detail is incredibly vivid and strong, with textures taking on a startling dimensionality. There aren't any issues with the transfer, either. It looks remarkably like film but without any instances of dirt, grain, or debris. On the technical side of things, there aren't any issues to speak of either.
As far as digital films being transferred to Blu-ray goes, this is the tops. It looks like film, has a lushness and life to it, but also carries with it all the hallmarks of a top tier digital film – noticeably its virtually perfect picture quality and attention to detail.
'Mother and Child's audio, a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 job, doesn’t quite live up to its video presentation, but it's still quite strong, especially for this type of movie.
Since there are no space invaders or zooming robots, 'Mother and Child' has a relatively quiet mix, with most of the action coming front-and-center (through dialogue). The surround channels are mostly used for the twinkly, understated score, although there are occasionally bursts of activity, mostly due to an important sound effect, which do jar you into noticing the surround sound work.
All that said, what is here is done exceptionally well: dialogue, the mix's chief concern, is always clear and crisp and well prioritized. Meanwhile, the music (by stalwart Ed Shearmur) does a good job of setting the mood and sounds really wonderful here.
There aren't a lot of instances when the mix is exceptional, but there aren't any instances of it faltering either. This is a clean, workmanlike mix that gets the job done and doesn't try to get fancy in any way. But you wouldn't want that for something as subdued as 'Mother and Child' anyway.
There are subtitles available in English and English SDH.
All of the extras presented here are also on the standard DVD edition of 'Mother and Child.' There is also a collection of "previews" on the disc, which also plays before the menu, so there's really no need to go into depth on what is essentially a collection of studio-packaged commercials.
'Mother and Child' is an emotionally complex and oftentimes riveting drama. With a superb cast anchored by outstanding lead performances by Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington (with fine satellite performances by the likes of Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson), it's the kind of grown-up drama that rarely sees the light of day in Hollywood anymore. With wonderful audio and video and a watchable, if not overwhelming, collection of extras, 'Mother and Child' is easily recommendable. Just be sure to have your Kleenex ready. There will be tears.