I want to love Sofia Coppola's films. In fact, I'm a big fan of her first three features – 'The Virgin Suicides,' 'Lost in Translation' and 'Marie Antoinette' – but I've been sorely disappointed in her last two ventures. 2010's 'Somewhere' was a major disappointment. Aaron Peck's review of the Blu-ray nailed it: "'Somewhere' seems tedious, and at times useless. … all surface and no substance." Considering the intriguing content, I expected 'The Bling Ring' to make up for 'Somewhere.' I expected it to actually say something about it's scandalous plot and the negative influence of celebrity, vanity, fame, and pop culture - but it doesn't.
True story. In 2007, a group of socialite teenagers started a rash of burglaries. Their targets: the most idolized celebrities in Hollywood. As the celebs would tweet about their far-from-L.A. Getaways, the high school rejects would obtain the stars' home addresses – thanks to Google – sneak in, and steal small valuable objects that the uber-wealthy victims might not notice missing. Of course, if we've heard about their story, then they didn't get away with it. The movie opens with a few of the kids being interviewed post-arrest, so don't think I'm spoiling anything for you.
If there's a lead in this ensemble – no, it's not Emma Watson – it's Israel Broussard. Broussard plays Marc, the new kid at the alternative high school (a school made for "troubled" teens that have been expelled from standard school districts). The first friend that he makes is Rebecca (Katie Chang), the soon-to-be leader of the "Bling Ring." Rebecca is a bad influence, who teaches Marc how to steal from unlocked cars prior to jumping into the big leagues – celebrity homes.
Marc and Rebecca knock off their first few celebrity homes together, but quickly get sucked into bringing the rest of their crew. Bragging after each instance, their criminal gang seemingly gets bigger with each heist. After her last few fantastic roles, it's no surprise that the only of these side-characters that brings anything to the movie is Emma Watson. Sadly, her character adds nothing to the big picture. Coppola's flimsy screenplay tries to use Watson's side character to blast her non-existent stance on the situation, but her monologue falls flat.
'The Bling Ring' is just as vapid as its celebrity-obsessed central characters. It seems to sympathize with both aspects of the true story. At times we're made to root for the kids. I found myself thinking, 'What kind of dumb ass millionaire closes the gate to their estate, but doesn't lock the front door.' But by the end, it starts to portray those same dumb ass millionaires as victims. Which is it? Who knows. But it doesn't stop there. The way these delinquents are portrayed makes us mostly dislike the lot of them, but once they get caught, we're made to feel sorry for them. Again, which is it?
But what bugs me the most is how this should-be-edgy-and-controversial film is the perfect set-up for a punch-in-the-gut social commentary, it doesn't take a stance at all. I wouldn't mind which way the message was aimed as long as it actually had a message. 'The Bling Ring' has nothing to say. It doesn't talk about the negative effects of celebrity on impressionable young minds. You can be certain that this isn't the moral of the story because Paris Hilton not only shows up in the movie, but also lent her home for many scenes. Several of the kids are home-schooled, but it doesn't take a stance on it. These kids can get into bars, get drunk, steal cars, snort cocaine and so on without any consequences. We even watch them get into a DUI car wreck – there's the crash, the broken glass and so on – but we never see how they get out of it. No police. No flashing lights and sirens. No angry or worried parents. Nothing. When the parents find out, they're shocked – as if they never knew about their kids' other dealings. The only thing that they get in trouble for is stealing from celebrities. The cyclical flow of the film – breaking-and-entering, stealing, partying, repeat – is made meaningless. The broken-record screenplay wouldn't seem so bad if it painted a big picture that can only be viewed by seeing it through to the end, but it doesn't.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed 'The Bling Ring' on a Region A BD-50 in a single-disc Elite keepcase. Included in the case is a code for an Ultraviolet copy of the film. The blue keepcase slides vertically into a bright yellow cardboard slipcover that contains identical artwork. Lionsgate has slapped on a slew of skippable trailers that play after the forced FBI warning and Lionsgate vanity reel, including 'The Spectacular Now,' 'Spring Breakers,' 'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,' 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' and Epix.
Just like Sofia's brother's movie 'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,' 'The Bling Ring' shows how unimpressive digitally-shot cinema can appear. 'Bling' isn't as bad as 'Charles Swan,' but the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is still not great.
Nothing about the look of the film is consistent. With a bright, loud, and flashy slipcase, main menu and advertisements, you'd expect the video quality to be packed with explosive colors – but that's not how it is. Sure, we get a few dazzling sequences like that, but the film mainly falls victim to blown-out lighting, muted and dulled shots that resemble low-res photography (I'm not referencing the night-vision scenes) and even some scenes that pointlessly feel like they're shot from a web-cam. If I had to estimate a percentage of the film that features these ugly distractions, I'd say 15 percent – but don't assume that the other 85 percent is great.
'The Bling Ring' lacks definition. Sure, it's crisp and clear, but I never once found myself saying, "Look at how great this looks!" In a film chock full of luxurious and desirable objects, the details are lacking. A few shots show a box containing Orlando Bloom's collection of Rolexes, but the video quality never lets the high-end products shine. The same goes for the jewelry in the films. Emma Watson and the other girls constantly snag bracelets and necklaces during their heists, yet none of them seem to sparkle or shine like they should. Fancy furs, scarves, sweaters, and other articles of clothing carry no texture or detail. The definition is completely missing from 'The Bling Ring.'
For some reason, digital noise carries on throughout the film in small places. In a high school scene full of kids sitting at desks, the backpacks on the floor will flicker with noise. During a bright interior daytime shot, something on the counter will feature noise. For the first ten minutes or so, this distraction kept catching my eyes, pulling me out of the movie each time. After an hour, I realized that I hadn't seen it in a while, but I realized that I'd simply become accustomed to it. As I rewatched a few minutes of the film, I realized that it was there all along, popping up in unexpected places.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (which is the only audio track on the release) kicks off with loud Southern California party music that swells from all channels. The rear and surround channels pump just as loudly as the fronts. The sub-woofer is engaged and thumping. Unfortunately, the music is the only strong aspect of the film's audio. It literally trumps everything that tries to compete with it. The dialog levels are so low that I compare it to listening to loud rock on the radio, followed by a disc jockey that whispers. Even if your master volume is cranked up so that the music is really booming, you will still have to boost the volume to understand the dialog.
Sounds effects are dynamically mixed. The most notable of the effects for me was when the kids are arrested toward the end of the film. The sound of mug shots being snapped in an enclosed jail setting echos brilliantly throughout the system. The majority of 'The Bling Ring' consists of environmental effects, small background noises that emit from the surround channels creating a decent environment. The volume of the effects still isn't as high as that of the music, but it's much better than that of the dialog.
During some scenes, it feels as if nothing was done to the master the audio. No enhancements. No mixing. And definitely no clean-up. The raw and unpleasant sound in these scenes tends to be distracting.
These Coppola kids are really starting to bug me. They've proven themselves in the past and in collaborations with other filmmakers, but like their Academy Award-winning father, they've completely lost it. Like the recent film from Sofia's brother, Roman, 'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,' the video quality of this digitally-shot film is far from impressive. The audio quality has it's strong points, but they're overshadowed by it's raw and poorly mixed moments. The special features are lacking, which isn't uncommon for low-budget indie flicks. If you, like me, are a fan of Sofia Coppola's earlier films and hope to see 'The Bling Ring' serve as a rebound from 'Somewhere,' don't get your hopes up.