The biggest problem with 'Being Flynn' is that even though this is one of Robert De Niro's best performances in years (he's been stuck in Fockers Mode for far too long) the movie fails to build a remarkable narrative around him. Here is De Niro, acting his heart out, while the movie is mired in a wishy-washy narrative that never harnesses the power of the performance on display.
Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) has had a tough time growing up. When he was young his father, Jonathan (De Niro) left. The only contact Nick had with his old man were the frequent letters. The letters shared a dream that Jonathan had his entire life, to write the perfect American novel. He's sure that his novel, years in the making, will be the next literary masterpiece. The obsession with writing drives Jonathan to a state of perpetual selfishness. Only his writing matters. Nothing else.
We get flashbacks of Nick's early life with his mother (Julianne Moore). Nick is a downtrodden youngster with little hope for the future, which is either an astute prediction, or a self-fulfilling prophecy, as when we see him in the present, he's jobless and can't hold down a relationship. He's a wanderer, much like his father. Nick soon meets a young girl named Denise (Olivia Thirlby) who helps him get a job at a local homeless shelter.
Out of the blue Nick receives a call from his father. He's being evicted from his apartment and now needs Nick's help. Jonathan, ever self-centered, won't actually stay with Nick. Instead Jonathan takes to the streets, becoming a homeless bum. He soon finds his way to the shelter where Nick works.
Jonathan starts a slow descent into madness. He's the man you see covered in dirt and grime, pushing a shopping cart filled with garbage bags, muttering to himself. He doesn't start out as that man, but his obsession with his novel is deadly. It's not really made clear what is happening to Jonathan. If I had to guess it'd be Alzheimer's. He becomes mean and belligerent, suffering from bouts of paranoia and schizophrenia. These are the scenes where De Niro's talent really shines. He makes Jonathan's journey to insanity seem realistic and gritty.
Even with a master acting class being put on by De Niro the rest of the movie flails around him. Nick is an uninteresting, hard-to-relate-to character who seems to flip-flop through his life with no real direction. It's frustrating to watch him go to work, go home, do drugs, rinse and repeat. Like Nick's life, the structure of 'Being Flynn' lacks direction and focus. The middle of the movie drags along like a never-ending soup line. We get the same scenes of depression and despair from Nick, but no real sign that anything inside him is changing; that anything he's doing really matters all that much.
'Being Flynn' is a slog, punctuated by a glorious one-man-show from Robert De Niro. I didn't like the movie that much, but I did enjoy watching De Niro reclaim some of the acting bravado that we've been missing from him for at least a decade. After wallowing through one disappointing film after another many were starting to wonder if we'd seen the last of De Niro's great work. He still has great talent inside him, and it really shows in 'Being Flynn' it's just too bad that the movie surrounding is so tedious and mundane.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Universal release. It comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. It's on a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. There is barebones connectivity for Pocket Blu and BD-Live.
Universal's 1080p presentation of 'Being Flynn' is sharp and smartly detailed throughout. It's a down-to-earth drama so there isn't much in the way of any visual pyrotechnics that are going to wow the eyeballs, but the picture presented looks great considering the subdued nature of the movie.
Facial features are on full display here. You'll notice fine detail on De Niro's stubble-ridden face; you'll see the individual strands of Dano's long greasy-looking hair; and you'll notice that all of Julianne Moore's trademark freckles make an appearance. Clothing has great texture as well. Jonathan's overcoat sports a nicely detailed woven texture as does his hat. His clothes slowly become tattered and torn as he lives his life on the street, each rip, wrinkle, and dirt smudge is visible as time goes on.
Colors are drab, but they're supposed to be. Browns, blacks, and off-whites dominate the dour, inner-city drama. While the colors aren't all that exciting to look at they're rendered expertly and provide an accurate representation of the sometimes ugly surroundings the characters find themselves in. I didn't notice any hint of artifacting, banding, or any other egregious distractions. 'Being Flynn' is a restrained but good looking Blu-ray.
Here we have your standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. It lacks any sort of bells and whistles, but that's because the movie is much more focused on the dialogue between the characters, so it's nice to know that the dialogue is clear. Even Dano's incessant whispering of his lines can be heard clearly.
Surrounds are given a nice helping of sounds to keep the ambiance alive. The shelter is full of chatter from its residents which is picked up in the rear channels and produced with a like-you're-there feeling. There isn't much in the way of noteworthy sound effects. The movie is a straightforward drama with little else. Car horns can be heard in the front channels as they pass through the busy city streets. The bustling life of the city is captured well in the surrounding speakers. This mix does everything right and very little wrong. It's simply not as flashy as most other movies.
It's just so hard to get past all the clichés – daddy issues, drug addictions, tepid social commentary – in order to appreciate 'Being Flynn' as a whole. I recognize De Niro's great work here, I never felt that he overacted the part (it could've been a very ham-fisted display), but his performance is overshadowed by how disappointing the overall film is. You're getting good audio and video here, so if you purchase it you won't be sorry on that front. 'Being Flynn' might be worth a look, but I really couldn't recommend people picking it up and owning it.