With random school shootings turning into rampages and massacres, with sensational media coverage dwelling on each occurrence, almost inviting more with the promise of equal or greater attention, these mass killings have become deadlier and more elaborate, with the perpetrators and the victims at times achieving a celebrity-like status. The list of schools, cities, and even countries affected grows yearly, as do the rumors and myths surrounding these events. The national and global attention brought by the Columbine massacre in 1999, the first school shooting since the University of Texas in the late '60's to have a double digit victim count, opened the door for anti-bullying and parental awareness initiatives in a changing world, a positive step forward, though they were in turn countered by extreme zero tolerance policies and fabricated stories to further agendas.
There are thousands of stories for each and every major school shooting, ranging from the victims to the perpetrators, the witnesses, the parents, family, friends, faculty, alumni, the entire community, in essence. In 1999, the Klebold and Harris families were scrutinized, their parental abilities called into question, blamed for the actions of their children. They bear the burden of guilt and responsibility, their lives forever altered in the worst of ways, put in the absolute worst lose-lose scenario imaginable. Just consider it: your child kills five, ten, fifteen innocent people, and then himself. You cannot join rank with the families who lost their children, as well. You cannot publicly grieve or mourn. Your every word and action is scrutinized and analyzed. Your child is gone, too, your life altered, but where is your support?
Shawn Ku's 'Beautiful Boy,' inspired by the Virginia Tech incident, delves into this issue, the plight of the parents whose child took the lives of others, focusing on their emotional state, their impossible battle, as they attempt to piece together the remnants of an already broken marriage whose only child is now gone. The media scrutiny, the chastising from the community as a whole, and the perceptions of family and even themselves are analyzed through what may be the longest 100 minutes of film imaginable.
'Beautiful Boy' is cinematic simplicity. It doesn't show the attack, and in fact spends very little time with the killer (Kyle Gallner). There is no clear motive, no obvious warning sign. This isn't some cautionary tale or recreation, nor is it a political piece with any type of message. It is, at its very core, a character study, an analysis of a relationship between the boy's parents (Michael Sheen and Maria Bello) and their struggles, both before and after their mundane existence is forever and irrecoverably changed. It's a story about the struggle to move forward in life when it seems impossible. It is an eye opening experience to be thrown in the middle of one of the worst lose-lose scenarios imaginable, with so much attention given to the minutia that it's impossible to disbelieve what you're seeing on screen.
This film follows an interesting path, like the stages of grief, as the two main characters recover at their own pace, sometimes together, sometimes apart, the newest test in their marriage pushing them to the brink. We're given two characters who are inconsolable, yet aren't even given the chance to gather themselves and try to recover as they're being hounded by the media and the community. The manner in which the killer's peers act out towards the family is also intriguing, a fascinating element in an already infinitely deep film that isn't about teaching anything, but rather about throwing its audience in the middle of an emotional roller coaster and bombarding them from all sides. It's hard to not feel like you're in the shoes of the parents early on, as the very beginning of the film gives us little time to familiarize ourselves with them before throwing open the floodgates.
'Beautiful Boy' is about a private path to personal redemption, about acceptance, about grief, family, love, loss, and guilt. It's a very thoughtful look at a horrible situation, full of very realistic responses, dialogue, and characters. There isn't a single distracting moment (aside from Sheen's often agape mouth) that pulls you out of the film's intended experience. Every single angle is covered, no stone left unturned. It's brutally methodical filmmaking with wonderful sensibilities and zero pandering or exploitation. If this film doesn't make you contemplate the trials and tribulations of others, it's entirely possible that you missed the message entirely. This film is a gem.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Beautiful Boy' arrives on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay/Starz on a Region A locked BD25 disc, replete with a few pre-menu trailers. There are no packaging or menu frills, this is just a basic new release.
The Blu-ray release of 'Beautiful Boy' is hardly beautiful, due to some of the very off-putting aesthetics of the film, but the 1080p transfer does do the film some great justice.
The super strong grain level isn't an issue, as detail still can get through, sometimes not as much as one would like, but still. There's very, very good detail shining through in facial features in most shots, with only a few that look a little blurred or soft, while colors can be pretty strong. There's no artifacting, banding, aliasing, jaggies of any sort, or debris, and even in darker sequences crush is not a factor. The way exterior shots can border on nuclear does wear thin rather fast, though, as it just sucks the detail and color right out of the picture.
This release isn't pretty by any means, but it appears to be a faithful to the film and free from technical problems. That counts for a whole lot.
The audio for 'Beautiful Boy,' presented in lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1, is somewhat uninspired.
Dialogue is always discernible, but there's almost nothing going on for the entire film. The score gets overpowered frequently, with rear speakers barely registering the music for half of the film, while very light static and rustling of clothes can be distracting in a number of scenes.
This is a pure talker of a film, audio minimalism, and it shows here, as there is no effect in the rears, nothing in the subwoofer, just a front heavy, sometimes annoying mix.
Beautiful Boy' is a very tough film. There's nothing feel good to this movie, as any moment of clarity or happiness for its characters is fleeting, with misery and pain being the name of the game. It's an honest, very insightful, well made film, one that is very believable. This Blu-ray release has video with a very unique aesthetic that doesn't quite lend itself to the format, and audio that will earn this disc no favors. Due to the tough subject matter, and the very, very slow story, this is one title that I'd advise viewers to approach with caution. Personally, I loved it, but this film drained the life out of me.