You’ll often read movie scholars and critics discuss chemistry between actors, something that bonds them on scree and makes the whole project come together. It’s about more than a keen eye for casting, but something the actors just carry with them on set and on screen. The modern definition? Blue Valentine.
Michelle Williams would be nominated for her role as Cindy, a middle class nurse living with her high school drop out husband and their daughter. We begin the film as the family dog goes missing, and were that the only aspect of the film to trudged through the mud to destroy your week, maybe it wouldn’t be the experience that it is.
This is a film about two different couples although they’re the same, one at the beginning of their relationship blooming and bright, the other as it collapses all around them. They transform, whether because of their past catching up to them or simply their situation. Director Derek Cianfrance uses two styles, 16mm for the intense and natural past, digital for the fake present as the couple merely tries to exist as a whole.
There are only clues as to why this once bubbly couple falls apart, Cindy unhappy her husband isn’t living up to his potential, Dean (Ryan Gosling) sick of being in a situation he never really wanted. It’s tragic to see a couple dancing and singing outside of a closed wedding shop, an edit bringing you out of that same vigorous romance where even brazen drunkenness can’t pull them together in their current scenario.
Blue Valentine is brilliant across the board, from the performances to the direction, a grueling trek through the trials and tribulations of love and the complications it presents. The tone is almost too natural, the hovering camerawork perfectly placed here, giving the material zest when it needs it, while bringing it down on the other side. Everyone is so invested in their roles, the camera feels like a window, something only the best films can accomplish with such ease.
This is as grand a feel good movie as it is a crushing disaster that ruins your day. The final scene is presented with such coldness and indifference, it leaves a lasting, powerful impression. Blue Valentine might even be too powerful for it’s own good, but if you leave it without being able to forget it, something was done right.
With clashing styles of both film and digital, not much can be said for Anchor Bay’s AVC encode that would apply to everything. Where the black levels are outstanding during the 16mm footage, they’re simply atrocious during the scenes captured via the Red One. The movie might be called Blue Valentine, but that’s no reason for the black levels to take after the first half of that title.
Colors waver too, from the deep, richly saturated hues of the past to the pale, drab look of the present. Entire sections of the current portion are drenched in this awful teal lighting scheme, an effect created by the cheap motel the characters attempt to rekindle their relationship in. You’ll long for the natural, pleasing flesh tones of old.
Oh, and detail? That’s the same too, even with the format clashes. Digital produces those shots of overwhelmingly smooth, flat, and glossy skin textures as often as it does the opposite. There are some spectacular close-ups here, although it’s nothing that can be counted on. The same goes for the 16mm, at times given a wondrous, firm grain structure that hardly intrudes at all, and in another it swarms relentlessly. Kudos then to the encode for keeping it all in line without becoming noticeable, preserving both formats cleanly.
There are some nit-picky problems around, including a little aliasing on Gosling’s glasses late, although these are the exceptions to the norm. Despite some source trouble, Blue Valentine is a great piece of compression, natural and unnatural when it needs to be. It ebbs and flows like the movie itself, which makes this hi-def presentation a perfect sibling to the big screen experience.
This DTS-HD effort kicks off with some great ambiance, the backyard of the house delivering some birds and insects chirping all around, setting a tone that never actually comes back around to match it. There are moments, sure, especially as the couple walks on the bridge at1:08:35, heavy traffic becoming overbearing by design. The final sequence is doused by fireworks going off within a neighborhood, screeching and popping prevalent and clear.
Any music is typically downtrodden, other musical accompaniment coming from low-end stereos in the room. Those are not about to produce any grand fidelity. Dialogue is clean and pure, the environment affecting the overall presentation, from a static doctor’s office to an echo-laden home. The design offers nothing extravagant, but like the video, it’s always meant to convey a feeling of naturalness, which it does.
Director Derek Cianfrance and co-editor Jim Helton provide the commentary, followed-up by a somewhat padded making-of that runs about 14-minutes. Four deleted scenes are fairly lengthy by the usual standards, taking up about 20-minutes. A home movie shows the couple in-character, and just how into these roles they were.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.