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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: An Education



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#1 of 2 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 30 2010 - 01:08 PM

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An Education


Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2009
Rated: PG-13
Program Length: 100 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

The Program

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. – Henry David Thoreau

The year is 1961. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a pretty, bright, inquisitive, and independent-minded 16-year-old student growing up in a time and place when having a mind of one’s own is not regarded as a desirable trait in a young girl. Jenny lives with her parents. Her father, Jack (Alfred Molina), is a decent man but insufferably dull. His wife, Marjorie (Cara Seymour), gives off hints that her life with Jack was more interesting before Jenny came along, but she seems to have accepted her present lot in life. The one ambition that Jack and Marjorie have for Jenny is that she might be accepted by and attend university at Oxford. Jenny has both the intelligence and the drive to make it to Oxford, but she is struggling at school with one required subject, Latin. She also plays cello in the school orchestra, though it is apparent that she does so more out of obligation than interest.

One afternoon after orchestra practice Jenny is standing with her cello at a bus stop during a rainstorm. A man (Peter Sarsgaard) drives up in a car and offers Jenny the use of the back seat to protect her instrument. When she hears a thunderclap in the distance, she takes him up on his offer of a ride home. He introduces himself as David. He is considerably older than Jenny, but he charms her with his gentle manner and he impresses her with his knowledge of art, literature and music. When Jenny tells him that she has never been to a real concert, David offers to take to a Ravel concert which is to be performed in London’s west end. Jenny wants to take him up on the offer, but she cannot imagine that her parents will ever permit it.

David’s charms work equally well on Jack and Marjorie. Jenny’s mother does not actually need any convincing, so David concentrates on Jack and maneuvers him into having to choose between taking Jenny to the concert himself or letting David do it. David seems to a decent sort, so Jack goes along with as long as Jenny will get home at a decent hour. At the concert Jenny is introduced to David’s friend and business partner, Danny (Dominic Cooper), as well as Danny’s girlfriend, Helen (Rosamund Pike). Jenny is enraptured by the concert and the wonderful supper they have afterwards. When she gets home she tells her mother that it was the best day of her life.

David introduces Jenny to a world which she has read about but never had the opportunity to experience - a world of fancy restaurants, art auctions, sports cars, gambling, and jazz clubs. David apparently is quite wealthy, but he is circumspect about what he does for a living. He tells Jenny only that he and Danny “buy and sell things.” Jenny admiration of David only increases as she watches him manipulate Jack in letting him spend more and more time with his daughter. She does not realize that David is equally capable of manipulating her, and as they grow closer she finds herself having to make a decision which may irrevocably change her life. She desperately want to avoid getting trapped in a life of quiet desperation – as Thoreau might put it, she clearly has a song to sing - but how can a girl of her age and limited experience have the wisdom to make the correct choices?

When I first heard about An Education I feared that it would be creepy and perhaps even sleazy. Fortunately, it is neither, although it is a coming-of-age story which contains some disturbing developments. Carey Mulligan is a revelation with her brilliant, Oscar-nominated lead performance. There is an Audrey Hepburn quality about her, and you cannot help but deeply care about what happens to Jenny. Peter Sarsgaard is equally compelling as David, a man of great charm who tries to give Jenny happiness but at the same time may not be exactly as he appears. Alfred Molina is excellent as the befuddled and clueless Jack, who wants what is best for Jenny but has no idea how to provide it, or even how to figure out what it is. Emma Thompson has a brief but significant role as the cold and unsympathetic headmistress of Jenny’s school. One of the best scenes in the film is a verbal sparring match between Jenny and the headmistress. Olivia Stubbs also turns in a superb performance as Miss Stubbs, a seemingly repressed teacher who is troubled by Jenny’s relationship with David.

One of the tests for determining the success of a dramatic film is to see how much of stays with you after you watch it. In that regard, An Education passes with flying colors. It has an outstanding script by Nick Hornby (based upon a memoir by Lynn Barber) and is tightly directed by Lone Scherfig, a Danish director whose prior work is mostly unknown to American audiences. If you decide to give An Education a try, I can assure you that you will find yourself thinking about it long after the screen goes dark.

The Video

The 1080p Blu-ray widescreen transfer is very good and seems to accurately reproduce the way the film was shown in theaters. The image tends to be a bit on the soft side, but this looks to be a deliberate choice made by the filmmakers. Colors and flesh tones appear to be spot-on, although the overall color palette is muted until it comes alive during a trip to Paris. Much of the action takes place indoors or in subdued lighting, but shadow detail is excellent and contrasts are solid. An appropriate amount of film grain is visible and I saw no evidence of edge enhancement or excessive DNR. Sony routinely produces outstanding Blu-ray discs, and this one is no exception.

The Audio

The uncompressed 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is solid, delivering clear dialogue and providing effective ambient sounds when appropriate. One scene takes place at a greyhound racetrack, and you can almost feel the dogs as they run past. There is a considerable amount of music on the soundtrack and it is provided with an expansive soundstage, whether it is Ravel in a concert hall or jazz in a nightclub. The unobtrusive English subtitles are available for viewers who may have difficulty with British accents.

The Supplements

The extras on this Blu-ray release are not extensive but are well-done and interesting. There is a worthwhile commentary track with director Lone Scherfig and the two leads, Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. Mulligan, incidentally, was at the time of filming eight years older than the character she plays, but she had no difficult passing for 16. Sarsgaard comments on how young she looks in the film, so apparently she has a more mature appearance in real life.

“Walking the Red Carpet” is a featurette about the film’s American theatrical premiere at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles (it was previously screened at Sundance). All of the principal participants in the film are interviewed, and Mulligan now looks at least as old as her real age.

Also included are eleven deleted scenes (shown in standard definition) and a typical “making of” featurette. The most interesting of the deleted scenes is an alternate ending I found to be unnecessary but which some viewers may actually prefer.

The original theatrical trailer for An Education can be viewed, as well as previews for Did You Hear About the Morgans?, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Chloe, Coco Before Chanel, It Might Get Loud, Whatever Works, The Class, Married Life, The Jane Austen Book Club, and Michael Jackson’s This is It.

There will also be some unspecified BD-Live features.

The Packaging

The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

Countless mediocre coming-of-age films have been made over the years, but every once in a while a true gem comes along. An Education is one of those gems. It also is an opportunity to see a remarkable performance by a young actor, Carey Mulligan, who appears destined to be a major film star.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player DVD Player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: March 30, 2010

Rich Gallagher

#2 of 2 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

Neil Middlemiss

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Posted January 08 2011 - 05:21 AM

I finally saw this today, and you were spot on about the incredible Carey Mulligan - she was terrific.


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