Blu Ray Review: A personally engaging director with a stella
Jimmy Lee | Manhasset, N.Y. United States | 02/14/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Steven Soderbergh and James Spader initiated my immediate interest in this film as Soderbergh's emotionally engaging techniques as a director never falls short of amazement; his characters are usually rich and very complex which enables him to invoke a sense of familiarity and impeccable plausibility to his audience. I have been a fan of James Spader's work especially in the 80's and was quite intrigued in this unusual role he plays for Sex Lies and VideoTape. The calm and appropriate setting that SoderBergh intentionally chooses for this film as well as his emphasis on character development will truly immerse and retain most of the audience's attention span. In respect to plot and character development I always prefer the latter to be richer and more carefully crafted.
Anne Bishop Mullany played by a very passive and quite attractive (Andy Macdowell) is a recent and fairly converted housewife. From the get go we get a sense of who Anne Mullany is through her therapy session. Our quick glimpse into her therapy session manifests how truly bored and empty Mullany's life is as her incessant trepidation about very mundane problems such as the onslaught of endless human garbage and world starvation impede and trap this woman's ability to truly focus on herself or more importantly her role in society.
Her character is further exposed when she reveals more personal information regarding her sex life with her husband John. (Peter Gallagher) According to Anne, her sex life has truly waned in the sense that she has physically lost any remaining sexual attraction to John. Moreover, she reveals that she has no desire to touch him in bed and that she never was the "sexual initiator" even when she was attracted. Her therapist begins to ask her some rather probing questions about her sexual feelings and gradually touches upon the act of masturbation. Anne's reaction is quite interesting as she emit's a very childish and retrained response stammering with a facetiously and giggling tone, "Sex is stupid" and that "I once tried to attempt masturbation but with no success". Her reaction suggests as if she attempted it out of sheer humor or for kicks. Her response also implies to us and the therapist that she acted upon this fairly recently; and, when her therapist picks up on this and further reconfirms her answer her face becomes distorted and looks unsettling; she looks uncomfortable and changes the subject. Her session gradually ends by voluntarily expressing her annoyance of her husband's failure to warn her sooner about his past time friend, Graham (James Spader), an old college buddy, who is going to be staying with them for a few days.
It is during Anne Mullany's therapy session where Steven Soderbergh cleverly uses the technique of parallel editing to convey an unfulfilled relationship as he is seen cheating on Anne with her younger sister, Cynthia.
John, a young up and coming lawyer, who is not only trying to manage his demanding and burdensome client schedule but also trying to manage his affair with Cynthia as well, is not too successful at it. His frequent and yet brief escapades enable John to cope with stress and fulfill his lackluster sex life with Anne. John and Cynthia's frequent and carefully planned escapades inevitably lead Anne to suspicion.
Cynthia, Anne's younger sister, is quite the opposite of Anne in every possible way; she is a loud, candid extrovert who is not in the least bit timid on the topic of sex either. She also seems to thoroughly enjoy how Anne reacts to her attitude and behavior. Her subsequent affair with John truly belittles and demeans Anne's marriage; moreover, it merely reduces it to a simple "non-attached fling" which is something quite similar and more appropriate you would find in Cynthia occupation of bartending. Cynthia's lack of guilt respect and compassion towards Anne and her marriage only reinforce this concept further. On a more important note, she doesn't even seem really interested neither in John's personality nor of his potential qualities or lack thereof. Cynthia seems to only enjoy the secrecy aspect of the affair as John comes and goes like a common cold.
My favorite character and one of the more complex as well is Graham Dalton (James Spader) who is a highly unusual, soft-spoken analytical and quite reticent as his inner feelings are admittedly expressed non-verbally. His strange innocent and yet probing questions lure Anne's attention immediately upon his arrival. With in a few minutes of his arrival Graham is sitting down asking Anne about her marriage particularly on how and why she likes this new lifestyle. Anne's answers to these questions further reveal her profound emptiness and lost sense of identity when she only mentions a few materialistic possessions such as the nice house they live in and the security of John's career. After their initial encounter, we find Anne becoming more drawn to Graham when she protects him from the claws of her feisty younger sister, or when she stares at him sleeping on the couch with a sort of curiosity and engaging interest. We also get a sense of Anne's attraction to him when she opens up to her therapist about his unexpectedly unusual personality that is so far different from her husbands that in a way is alleviating to her.
The interaction between these four characters is quite mesmerizing and very complex. James Spader's and Andy MacDowell's character interaction is by far the most interesting and multifaceted. The way they challenge and react to each other's body language is enough to at least invoke some sense of enjoyment and curiosity from this film. Personally I enjoyed the heavy social commentary that sheds light on the troubles of flawed characters in modern relationships. Ironically, all of these characters do have something in common after all, and that is through their carefully self-constructed mental prisons that they built for themselves in society; Graham is still haunted by a previous and apparently unsuccessful relationship with a woman named Elizabeth, and this still has a profound affect on Graham's life. Moreover, his apprehensiveness to engage in future relationships not only prevents him from making forward progress but also isolates him from other women.
Anne's inability to feel sexual attraction with her husband or to any other potential male completely dominates her life and this is particularly evident in her unproductive therapy sessions. We are not really sure how long Anne and John have been married nor are we aware of how long he has been in an affair. We are also not aware of how long Anne has been in therapy either. However, it is safe to assume that Anne's dissatisfaction as a wife and place in society has been pestering her long enough.
John, who is according to Graham the lowest form of human life: A lying lawyer. John struggles to become a successful lover or a husband for that matter in every possible aspect; he is not honest in the least bit as he openly and blatantly lies to his wife in a very poor manner too. It is also revealed later that John also cheated with Grahman's former girlfriend Elizabeth. It seems as though John's life was and is still completely dominated by short-term non-attached flings. It is also revealed how John struggles to cope with this pattern of behavior when we see him get tossed like a bad habit in Cynthia's apartment.
Cynthia's poor attempt to become emotionally attached to any male is pathetic to say the very least. Her affair with John along with her attempt to seduce Graham manifests her inability to have a long-term relationship. In a sense this is empowering to her.
Most importantly, it is through these interactions that enable us to see how these characters center their entire lives on their insecurities. In a much larger sense, this flaw prevents them from fulfilling their roles as wife, a husband, a potential lover and a sister. SoderBergh is nothing short of excellent in his debut film; his deceptive vocal recording along with his stylistic editing is very impressive and intriguing. More impressive, are his carefully crafted characters that are acted flawlessly throughout the film.
For a low-budget indie film that takes us back to 1989 this film is completely restored and re-mastered of the highest and most accurate quality. Although I have never seen the dvd I think it is safe to assume that this Blu Ray transfer is probably the far superior format that this picture is ever going to look, end of story; colors look completely natural which produce a strong feel of vibrancy particularly during some of the exterior shots of Graham's apartment and Anne's house. Flesh tones are fairly consistent throughout exhibiting a very subtle and appropriate level of softness during the interior shots. Detail is not extraordinary but is still impressive no less and that is because of the film's age. The gentle and subtle layer of grain prevalent throughout the film will not displease Blu-Ray fans or technical critics either as it is able to retain the indie appearance of the film without discrediting the superb transfer. In respect to sound, don't look for a jaw-dropping Dobly TrueHD 5.1 immersing surround sound experience either, because this is a drama film that centers around dialogue and a soft-haunting soundtrack composed by the brilliant Cliff Martinez. The majority of your speakers will be dominated by your center-channel and left-right speakers. This is not a disappointment in the least bit either as Martinez's deep and haunting soundtrack will easily satisfy it's audience because it contributes to the mood and atmosphere of the various characters inner thoughts and feelings. The dialogue is very crisp and is immune to any distracting pops or crackles. Overall, this is quite an impressive and excellent Blu-Ray transfer."