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Margaret Blu-ray + DVD Combo Review

Margaret (2011) movie poster Margaret

Theatrical Release: September 30, 2011 / Running Time: 150 Minutes (Theatrical Cut), 186 Minutes (Extended Cut) / Rating: R (Theatrical Cut), Unrated (Extended Cut)

Writer/Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Anna Paquin (Lisa Cohen), J. Smith-Cameron (Joan Kaplan), Jean Reno (Ramon), Jeannie Berlin (Emily Morrison), Allison Janney (Monica Patterson), Matthew Broderick (John), Kieran Culkin (Paul), Mark Ruffalo (Gerald Maretti), Matt Damon (Mr. Aaron), Sarah Steele (Becky), John Gallagher (Darren), Stephen Adly Guirgis (Detective Mitchell), Betsy Aidem (Abigail Berwitz), Jonathan Hadary (Russell Deutsch), T. Scott Cunningham (Gary), Michael Ealy (Dave the Lawyer), Kevin Geer (AIG Detective #2), Hina Abdullah (Angie), Kenneth Lonergan (Karl), Rosemarie DeWitt (Mrs. Maretti), Josh Hamilton (Victor), Cyrus Hernstadt (Curtis Cohen), Kelly Wolf (Annette), Carlo Alban (Rodrigo), Jerry Matz (Mr. Klein), Kevin Carroll (Mr. Lewis), Olivia Thirlby (Monica), Jake O'Connor (David), David Mazzucchi (Lionel), Adam Rose (Anthony), Nick Grodin (Matthew), Adam LeFevre (Rob), Matthew Bush (Kurt), Glenn Fleshler (1st Man), Stephen Conrad Moore (2nd Man), Renιe Fleming (Opera Singer), Susan Graham (Opera Singer 2), Krysten Ritter (Salesgirl)

Buy Margaret from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • Instant Video

Margaret was one of the last 2011 films to come to DVD and Blu-ray, but punctuality has not been one of its fortes. Shot back in the fall of 2005, Kenneth Lonergan's follow-up to his acclaimed Oscar-nominated 2000 directorial debut You Can Count On Me was held up in limbo. The director took an unusually long time to arrive at a satisfying edit and clashed with a producer/financier over just what that was.
The interminable post-production sparked a lawsuit and a countersuit, both inviting doubt over whether the movie would ever be finished.

Long after two of its producers (Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack) had passed away, Margaret finally and barely received theatrical release last fall from Fox Searchlight Pictures. It played in just fourteen theaters, having no chance at all to earn back a significant amount of its reported $14 million budget. The distributor then passed on mounting any awards campaign whatsoever for the film. That dismayed the film's biggest fans, many of them bloggers and critics (naturally, given the limited engagement), who petitioned the studio to give it the push and chance for recognition they believe it clearly deserved. A few year-end screenings were added, but no major accolades came to fruition and Margaret swiftly disappeared.

It finally made its way to home video earlier this month in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack supplying both the original theatrical cut and a considerably extended over 3-hour edit.

Margaret's lengthy shelving is quite evident, beginning with the fact that it stars Anna Paquin, who turns 30 tomorrow, as a believable high school student. Also dating the film is talk of the September 11th terrorist attacks as still fresh wounds and debate over the United States' presence in Afghanistan.

High school student Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) is horrified by the gruesome bus-pedestrian accident she just witnessed and kind of caused. Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) and Ramon (Jean Reno) go to the opera on a date.

Paquin plays Lisa Cohen, a young resident of Manhattan's wealthy Upper West Side. Attending private school on a half-scholarship, Lisa is not exactly achieving; her opinionated participation in current events debates rubs classmates the wrong way and she is downright deficient in geometry. But Lisa's studies take a backseat here. When shopping for a cowboy hat late one afternoon, she accidentally causes a commuter bus to run a red light and strike and kill a woman (Allison Janney) crossing the street. The incident is bloody, traumatizing, and somewhat prolonged. When Lisa gives her statement to the police, she claims the traffic light was green, to eliminate any potential repercussions for the driver (Mark Ruffalo, using a spotty working class accent) she clearly distracted.

Mulling over the fatal accident in the days to come and learning more about the deceased lady, Lisa has a change of heart. When she tracks down the driver and finds him less than remorseful, she contacts the police investigator to revise her statement. When that isn't enough to bring charges against the driver, she and the deceased's prickly middle-aged best friend and executor Emily (Jeannie Berlin) decide to pursue their legal options, looking into the possibility of a wrongful death lawsuit against the MTA.

Meanwhile, Lisa's relationship with her divorced mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), a stage actress enjoying some success, is more than a little strained. Her time divided between her play and a friendly new Colombian suitor (Jean Reno), Joan is mostly kept in the dark about Lisa's guilt and her efforts for legal recourse. Communication is both more civil and awkward in Lisa's cross-country phone calls to her pleasant but distant father (Lonergan himself) living on the California beach.

New York City bus driver Gerald Maretti (Mark Ruffalo) is not particularly receptive to Lisa's unannounced visit to his Brooklyn home. Geometry teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon) lets Lisa (Anna Paquin) cross a number of lines with her forward personal visit to his sublet apartment.

At 150 minutes, the film's contractually-obligated limit for Lonergan's final cut status, the theatrical version of Margaret is quite long, even epic for what it is. It is also choppy, despite or because of the fact that many (including Martin Scorsese and his trusted longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker) tried to help Lonergan finish his movie. It isn't hard to spot potential targets for trimming: bits that do not pertain to the bus accident plot. There are a number of such scenes, several of them dealing with virginal Lisa's love life, with three potential interests: sarcastic, drug-using creep Paul (Kieran Culkin) with a girlfriend, nice but shy boy Darren (John Gallagher Jr.), and handsome, sympathetic math teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon, looking much slimmer than he has in recent years). Such scenes do not lead anywhere, other than an odd, possibly dubious bombshell of a revelation in the closing minutes.

Even if not every piece fits together, each is compelling in its own right and sheds light on characters, Lisa most of all. I imagine many viewers will not like the film on account of them not liking Lisa. She is a fairly reprehensible protagonist, one oddly hell-bent on making the bus driver pay for the accidental death she is as responsible for, if not more. Lonergan isn't oblivious to this fact. We're shown that Lisa is young, impulsive, and fairly unwise. But she has her convictions, at least the one that she sees bringing justice and closure to the distressing encounter she just happened to be a part of.

Margaret, which apparently takes its title from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem recited in Lisa's class (taught by a contentious Matthew Broderick), is rich in ideas and thoughtful in its exploration of them. For hedging so largely on a brief, single chance encounter, the film's story is surprisingly substantial and profound, engaging the viewer intellectually and emotionally as cinema rarely does.

In this extended cut exclusive scene, Lisa (Anna Paquin) finds herself underwhelmed on this date with Darren. The extended cut of "Margaret" makes clear that Lisa's abortion is real, beginning with this mother-daughter home pregnancy test scene.

With no onscreen indicator graphic, deleted scenes section, or Blu-ray video clips, there is no easy way to determine where the DVD's 186-minute extended cut differs from the theatrical presentation. It's not inconceivable to play the DVD on your computer and the Blu-ray on your television to try to spot the divergences. Fortunately for you, that is exactly what I did for this review.

This extended edit, credited to Lonergan on the rear cover (an end credits tag cites Anthony Ripoli for additional editing) though never explicitly declared a director's cut, features a number of small differences throughout. The changes begin at the start, in which the poetic very slow motion scenes of New York pedestrians are revised some along with credits font and order.
The extended cut adds some stranger chatter, as the meaningless conversations of those near Lisa repeatedly feature in passing, rendering the film more sprawling that way. The extended cut also relies more heavily on opera music to accompany wordless scenes of sky, buildings, and people walking, adding some grandeur.

Shots and lines are both gained and lost in this edit. We do get to spend more time with each of those three previously underdeveloped love interests. We see Lisa on multiple unfulfilling dates with Darren, one of them allowing others' conversations to drown them out. While Lisa's shadowy uncomfortable sex scene with Paul is slightly shortened, the scenes before and after it offer some of the most substantial gains, as she and the creep discuss the deflowering. Lisa also engages in an extended philosophical conversation with Mr. Aaron at his apartment, where he puts up more of a fight, but their romance doesn't explicitly go beyond kissing in this cut.

Joan's first date with Ramon is extended, yet her second one loses her trying to get out of going to the opera. New to the longer cut is a rooftop exchange in which the middle-aged couple evaluates their relationship. Another significant gain is a rehearsal for a school play, on which Lisa works as tech crew (apparently shunning her mother's profession) as the entire production (including both Darren and Paul) airs out personal issues among them tearily.

The longer cut proves to be more coherent in a number of ways. It fleshes out the decedent's relationship with her next-of-kin (an Arizona cousin, who later contradicts that), to clarify the lawsuit's motivations. An added line gives an explanation for the bus driver's job being protected (his brother-in-law has pull). Another reinserted scene has Lisa looking for him behind the wheel. Meanwhile, the detective questions her statement revision. There is a distraught elevator ride for Joan. Some scenes are simply reordered, or their shot composition slightly edited.

One of the biggest changes takes removes doubt from Lisa's final act revelation; in this version, her mother learns she truly is pregnant and takes her to get an abortion. It's kind of bizarre to that genuine plot point to remain cryptic and fleeting in the theatrical cut, as it obviously carries great weight.

This may be the rare extended cut to improve on a theatrical cut or at least provide welcome clarity, but you can certainly understand even an independent studio's commercial concerns over releasing an over 3-hour coming-of-age drama.

Margaret Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85.1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Blu-ray only: Spanish
DVD Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 10, 2012
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

It might be the film stock or cameras used, but Margaret looks older than it even is, basically resembling a 1990s movie. The Blu-ray's 1.85:1 picture is not as sharp as we've come to expect. Nor are the colors are as vibrant. The element stays clean, but with blacks looking gray and other colors also undersaturated. Grain is minimal.
On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, is solid. It comes to life in scenes set at the opera, but throughout, dialogue is crisp and clear music prominent.

Despite fitting over three hours of video, the DVD shows no signs of trouble, offering a stellar and fully polished standard definition representation of the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

No extras are found on either disc, not even trailers for Margaret or other Fox films. You would think that would clear the way for at least the Blu-ray to provide both cuts via seamless branching. But while there seems to be enough space for it, we have to settle for this compromise, in which Blu-ray is deprived of the extended cut and DVD goes without the theatrical edit. The lack of extras feels inevitable on such a fabled, prolonged, and challenging work. This might just be one for The Criterion Collection to tackle someday.

On both discs, a standard menu plays clips from the film and score. The BD supports both adding bookmarks and resuming playback.

The eco-friendly Blu-ray case is topped by a redundant but nice glossy slipcover. With no digital copy included, there is no insert to be found inside.

Emily (Jeannie Berlin) and Lisa (Anna Paquin) discover their legal options from Emily's lawyer friend.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Margaret is neither the masterpiece nor disaster you expect to emerge from such a long, ambitious, and contentious post-production. It is certainly a competent and intriguing human drama, but one that tries to accomplish more than it can. Either cut of the film is sure to divide viewers, its length and ramble proving laborious to some, while its ideas, story, and characters are sure to trump any concerns and win over others.

This Blu-ray + DVD combo pack is limited by a lack of bonus features, less than stunning picture quality, and the compromise of assigning just one cut to each format. Still, most Blu-ray households should be satisfied by this inclusive, versatile set.

Buy Margaret from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed July 23, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Fox Searchlight Pictures, Camelot Pictures, Gilbert Films, Mirage Enterprises, and 2012 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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