The opening scene of The Greatest ends as soon as it begins, before we even know the main characters. Two teens have sex, and afterward get into a car, when suddenly a truck comes from nowhere to smash the compact vehicle to pieces.
It’s appropriate. The young girl, Rose (Carey Mulligan), becomes pregnant from that night, surviving the crash as her boyfriend Bennett (Aaron Johnson) does not. She knows almost nothing about him. Neither does the audience.
Rose, now lost without her own mother to guide her, takes up a room with Bennett’s parents and their other teenage son. They are, in literal terms, a mess. Grace (Susan Sarandon) wakes up crying every morning, and walks the halls screaming for her son. Her grief is real, hardly easy to withstand, and taking a toll on her husband Allen (Pierce Brosnan) who tries to keep it all inside.
The drive home from the funeral sets the tone. Grace, Allen, and Ryan (Johnny Simmons) sit in the car together as they are being driven away. Grace is lost, looking around frantically as if she’ll find her son. Allen holds back tears, nearly breaking down but trying to remain strong despite the obvious emotions. Ryan could seemingly care less, motionless and static. The shot lasts for about a minute, unbroken and still. It’s a gutsy way to begin a film, especially for a first-time director, but an important shot to establish where this is going.
All of this grief, constantly put on screen in various ways, provides insight into how these characters deal with this loss, even if there is little to them beyond their mourning. It feels honest, an earnest attempt to place the viewer within a situation such as this, and the process to get out of it. The Greatest is nine months of time, all of Rose’s pregnancy, which is sort of conveniently how long it takes for the driver of the truck to come out of the coma, and for everyone to overcome their depression. It wraps up too easily, but does a lot of good work before that, enough to generate a few tears.
The Greatest comes from National Entertainment Media in an AVC encode that suffers from numerous problems. The film, post-crash at least, is tremendously flat. Colors are muted, black levels are more of a gray, and the contrast is bland. It sets the appropriate tone, one of sadness and depression, and is replicated here without much fault.
The issues seem to lie with the compression. The first scenes carry a notable bloom, nothing offensive. Past that, the film suddenly looks digital, that bloom turning into a burst of artifacting that regularly gives this a foggy haze which is not natural. The grain breaks down, revealing a sea of compression, the first occurrence at 9:30. The sky is littered with irritating blocks at 43:50, and a door briefly shows the same issue at 1:32:28.
Very little here looks like any film stock. Brosnan’s face carries a soft, processed look on a consistent basis. About 12-minutes in it starts to become noticeable, with sporadic sequences elsewhere that are just as bad (34:12). There is no real detail to speak of, the generally soft source and poor transfer preventing high-fidelity detail from showing through.
Environments are no better, plants, trees, and other shrubbery lacking definition and establishing shots suffering. The house at 1:24:19 is rough, and the trees on the sides of the road at 1:26:00 offer little in the way of discernible definition. This one has no real bright spots or highlights.
A soft, at times barely even noticeable indie soundtrack carries some of the film, represented well by this DTS-HD effort. Clarity is wonderful, preserving the music as well as can be expected. Dialogue is clean, delivering the generally quiet nature of the film without fault and with consistency.
The only real jolt in terms of volume is the opening car crash, which literally comes from nowhere. Past that, it’s safe to turn up. Even a lively party at 54:20 offers little, the ambiance in the surrounds negligible. This is a subdued audio effort, all by design, and there is little that can be said wrong for the track itself.
Six deleted scenes and a series of four interviews (about 30-minutes total) are the only extras besides trailers.