Beautiful Boy BD [Blu-ray]
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On the surface, this impressive little movie with the deceptively gentle title is near unrelentingly bleak and depressing. But the understatement and grace notes evident in the overlapping themes of personal loss and horrific tragedy make it an absorbing character study with insight into redemption and recovery from even the most devastating blows life can deal. Under the attentive direction of newcomer Shawn Ku, Michael Sheen and Maria Bello are responsible for most of the emotional grandeur as parents of a college freshman whose unknown inner chaos erupts into mass murder and suicide on his unnamed campus one morning, a starting point plainly inspired by the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. Bill and Kate are on the steep down-slope of a marriage--he's already making plans to move out--when the unthinkable news arrives at their door in the form of two police officers seeking clues to the mind-boggling motivations that triggered the actions of their son. The aftermath and all its attendant details are scrupulously observed by Ku's shaky, handheld camera with its long lens kept almost exclusively in ultra-tight close-up to telegraph the claustrophobia of Bill and Kate's individual and shared turmoil. Of course there's much more than turmoil and grief. There's rage, desolation, incomprehension, recrimination, and pitiable sorrow, not only for themselves, but also for the progression of choices that could have brought them to such an inconceivable place in the world. It's a lot for such a spare movie to bite off and chew, and the evolution of reason that the script lays out for Bill and Kate sometimes stutters. Yet Sheen and Bello never waver in their choices as actors to keep the overwhelming reality facing their characters from completely going off the deep end. Several scenes that come together at a cheap motel where they have fled to partially keep the crushing truth at bay are heartbreakingly moving and truly remarkable showcases of their professional skill. The rigorous formal style that includes the camerawork and a pallid, washed-out blue-gray palette is as rigorous as the performances. Events and emotions conspire to direct Bill and Kate's panoply of anguish toward a resolution that recognizes there is no answer to the questions asked by police, parents, and the movie itself. But the suggestion lingers that there may be a kind of deliverance in the affectingly beautiful despondency of Beautiful Boy. --Ted Fry
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Bill and Kate are the middle-class parents of college junior Sammy, a young man who has always been quiet and something of a loner. There is a tension beneath their marriage which is not readily apparent to anyone, not even to them. One night their son calls and sounds unusually quiet. The viewer is easily able to spot the sadness and confusion in his face, but Bill and Kate notice nothing over the phone, chatting only about planning the family vacation.
The next morning brings the news that a student has shot dozens of fellow students at Sammy's college. There is a lockdown and no information is coming out of the school. Worried as they are, Bill and Kate convince themselves that Sammy is fine - he rarely answers his cell phone anyway, Kate muses - until the moment when two detectives appear at their door. Kate screams, "He's dead, isn't he?" and their worst fears are confirmed. But then comes the unthinkable, "There's more" says the Detective, as he informs them that Sammy is the perpetrator who shot himself in the head after murdering so many of his fellow students. "LIAR!" shrieks Kate, "LIAR!" she repeats, as she collapses in disbelief.
They both take to bed, Bill in their room and Kate sprawled across Sammy's in his attic bedroom. After a short while, the reporters appear at their door and the television is endlessly showing Sammy's photo and a seemingly psychopathic video he made shortly before his rampage. Bill and Kate flee to Kate's brother's home, while they try to come to terms with Sammy's inexplicable killing spree.
The first thing that impressed me about this film was the superb acting. Michael Sheen ("David Frost" in FROST NIXON; "Tony Blair" in THE QUEEN) is nothing short of brilliant as the confused and grieving Bill. He's a good man, a good husband and a good father, but the events that unfold make him question if the tragedy could somehow be their fault. Maria Bello (THANK YOU FOR SMOKING) is extremely effective as Kate, believably and quietly wringing all the emotion one could expect out of the situation. But even more than their amazing performances, the tight script, effectively dramatic without any pathos or phony emotion, is as believable as one could want and plunges the viewer directly into the experience of the two shocked parents, as they deal with horribly cruel and judgmental comments on Sammy's Facebook page, childish, sadistic graffiti spray-painted on his tombstone, endless talk-show hosts who condemn them as parents without ever meeting them, and thrill-seeking teens who break into their home to "investigate" all they can about the "Psycho murderer." How many times have we seen headlines like this and thought, "It's the parents fault" without giving any real consideration to who the parents really are and how confused and saddened they must be to lose a child?
Equally impressive is the first-rate direction by Shawn Ku, who restrains the dramatics to the point of sheer plausibility and whose indulgence in hand-held cameras is neither excessive nor obtrusive. The best thing about it, it bears repeating, is the absence of maudlin emotions and tear-wrenching, sappy speeches or music. The scenes are all well thought out, extremely credible and ultimately satisfying. For a while, I thought they had stopped making films like this. The pedestrian premise initially prompted me to give it just four stars, but in the end I was so satisfied by this marvelously well-done, old-fashioned drama that I can't see how it deserves less than five.
Pacing, score, pretty much everything was brilliant.
Definitely worth a watch.
The movie is about your average married couple who's college age kid snaps and goes on a school shooting rampage before taking his own life.
My memories of Columbine and the other various school shootings over the years are still very fresh in my mind.
The one thing that I always wondered was how the families related to the shooters dealt with what had happened.
I think this movie does an excellent job of showing what these families go through.
When Columbine happened, I like many was the first to point my finger at the parents.
But what I've noticed about a lot of these shooters is that they're almost always late teens to early twenties. That's usually right when schizophrenia symptoms start to manifest in young men.
So no, in a lot of cases I think the parents raise the kids just fine and are just as baffled by what happened as everyone else.
I know it's of little comfort to the victims families but all too often the warning signs of mental illness go unnoticed.
The only thing we can really learn from tragedies like this are to better recognize the symptoms as well as finding better ways to treat people who are mentally ill before things escalate to such violence.
This was a very difficult movie for me to make it through.
If you cry easily, you better have tissue near by.
A powerful and disturbing movie that I'm glad I saw.
I probably won't ever watch it again it was too depressing.
It definitely left a mark on me.
As I said before I, like many pointed my finger of judgement at the parents.
That wasn't fair of me or anyone else to do.
Sometimes there are answers.
Sometimes there aren't.
Sometimes the answers, like mental illness only become apparent after the fact.
This movie made me think.
It made me cry.
It makes me hope that we find better ways of helping people around us who are in need of it.
An amazing and powerful movie.
Sheen and Bello play an affluent, yet struggling, couple on the brink of divorce. As they are making important decisions about their lives together, some crushing news about their college-age son smashes their existence. Suddenly, they are at the center of a public maelstrom. Everything they thought they knew has been stripped away and they are left with nothing but each other. Trying to make sense of what happened and simultaneously trying to move past it, the couple attempt to navigate a powder keg of emotions. And the story is very much about Bello and Sheen and how they cope. Will this incident pull them back together or destroy them forever. Part of the nuance of Ku's screenplay is that it allows that they are each their own person, and their reaction to the event and its aftermath is very separate (even as they are forever intertwined). Filled with regret, recriminations, and humiliation--is it possible to move on? And where does ultimate responsibility lay when unimaginable things occur?
"Beautiful Boy" is a smart and sophisticated piece of work. Despite the opportunity for emotional grandstanding, Bello and Sheen remain remarkably grounded and utterly real. At times, you might wish the movie offered more insight into just who their son is. He is never developed (as a conscious decision), but the enigma of his character lingers all over the movie. I mean if his parents, who by all accounts had a close enough relationship with the boy, are clueless--it's hard for the viewer to contextualize what happens. Still, the movie is sensitively wrought and offers two compelling performances. Sheen, as always, executes in one of his most emotional roles. But it is Bello that has the chance to surprise. I've always liked Bello, but her resume veers all over the place from top tier work to grade-B schlock. This time, she's chosen right and her brittleness has rarely been used to such affect. This is definitely a movie for adults who appreciate serious minded filmmaking. An easy recommendation--its power comes from its understatement. About 4 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 11/11.
The subject being, your child using a gun and killing other children and then killing (or not)himself or herself.
This true to life scenario has only picked up in the past 20 years, and I personally have always felt a very deep sorrow for not only the children and parents of the victims, but especially for
the parents of the assailant. How do you ever deal with knowing your kid has murdered others?
Not only do you have the grief that the other parents have, but you get to add in guilt and of course that distasteful human reaction of morbid curiosity.
This is the only movie I have ever watched on this subject, as it would not be on the top of my
list to produce, but the subject had to be breached for us (the general public) to mull over.
The movie was hard to watch, but as I have stated, I have always wondered just how these parent can cope with the situation and the movie helped some in that endeavor.
Movies fall into two categories; One to entertain, and the second (what this movie does so well) is to enlighten.
School shootings are unfortunately prevalent in this country. When one occurs, the nation watches and then proceeds to pass judgment. School shootings are a touchy cinematic subject not often covered on film and never from the perspective of the parents. It is sometimes forgotten or not even thought about that the parents of school shooters are victims too. Parenting, whether good or bad, is not necessarily a catalyst for this kind of thing, yet the parents tend to receive some of the blame and are viewed as an extension of the shooter and disregarded accordingly.
This kind of film is tailor-made for actors. The skeleton of the plot isn't new; a family trying to pick up the pieces after a tragedy. By incorporating a school shooting and the effects this has on the shooter's parents, writers Michael Armbruster and Shawn Ku (who also directs) add another layer of depth and examination to the story rather than sensationalizing it. It's a touchy subject, because filmmakers don't have a lot to explore. There's no definitive answer. We like to blame things, be it bullying or music or video games, but why then do people who are exposed to the same things not react in the same way? It's this sense of the unknown that I think troubles people most and keeps them glued to the screen in these situations. The film is respectful towards the issue and doesn't bite off more than it can chew.
The film follows Bill and Kate, both consumed with their work and leaning towards a future divorce. After facts come to light about their sons actions, they begin trying to cope with the tragedy in the current social networking/mass media world. Soon, they are being badgered by the media and are forced to retreat from their home to attempt to restore things to some sense of normality, while being exposed to the cruelty of people who feel personally wronged and misplace their blame. The script wisely avoids dwelling on Sam or the particulars of the shooting, allowing the actors to embrace the strong emotional content of the story. It is, at its very essence, an actor's piece and both Bello and Sheen deliver. Powerful, startling words are said to each other; something parents should never have to say or experience. Singer Meat Loaf has a few brief scenes as a hotel clerk and there's a scene between him and Sheen that is devastating and brilliantly, quietly acted. It doesn't have the shouting and unbridled emotion of some other scenes, but it's one of the most powerful scenes of the entire film.
The script explores the emotional, but not the psychological. It asks a lot of questions, but makes no attempt to answer them. Like the parents, it has no answers only speculation. The script does nearly everything right, except the subplot involving the new novelist that Kate works with. This reaches a predictable conclusion and isn't unimportant to show what parents may have to deal with, but is ineffective overall. Beautiful Boy is powerful, but not profound. A film that may make you think, but doesn't require you to. It's eye-opening, but not surprising. It's very well-acted and well-meaning, worth the experience but not something that will warrant multiple viewings.