Criterion Collection: George Washington [Blu-ray]
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Over the course of one hot summer, a group of children in the decaying rural South must confront a tangle of difficult choices. An ambitiously constructed, elegantly photographed meditation on adolescence, the first full-length film by director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) features remarkable performances from an award-winning ensemble cast. George Washington is a startling and distinct work of contemporary American independent cinema.
Restored high-definition digital transfer, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray Commentary by director David Gordon Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider Deleted scene, with commentary by Green, Orr, and Schneider Two student shorts by Green: Pleasant Grove (1997), with commentary by Green, Orr, and Schneider; and Physical Pinball (1998) Charlie Rose interview with Green from 2001 Interviews with cast members, Clu Gulager’s 1969 short film A Day with the Boys, an influence on George Washington, Trailer PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Armond White and a director’s statement
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The good: these kids turn in pretty impressive performances for first-time or relatively new actors. Tim Orr's cinematography pretty much apes Terence Malick's style (which is actually good OR bad, depending how you look at it), and the film's "rust belt" backdrop is memorable. Also, you get to see Paul Schneider (Parks and Recreation) in his acting debut.
The bad: Most of this film was improvised and it shows. As mentioned before, there's barely a plot and the second half just kind of rambles on without much of a direction. For a 90 minute film, this pretty much proves there wasn't enough material to begin with. Maybe Green hoped he'd get lucky along the way---and there are some good moments, believe me---but as a whole the film just kind of falls flat.
Criterion's Blu-ray offers a modest improvement over their own 2002 DVD, from the 1080p transfer (presumably taken from the same master, but it still looks good) to the new DTS-HD 2.0 Surround track. Extras are identical, including a solid audio commentary, a few short featurettes and two student films by Green; one provided the inspiration for "George Washington", mentioned earlier.
If you already own the DVD and consider yourself a huge fan of the film, you might get your money's worth. But without a new master or new extras (how about another cast reunion?), casual fans and new viewers probably won't get as much out of this. Definitely worth a rental, as Criterion's high price point makes this a pretty big gamble for those unfamiliar with the film.