Directed by Woody Allen
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 96 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono English; Dolby Digital 2.0 mono French, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish, Italian, others
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Review Date: January 28, 2012
After two failed marriages, television comedy writer Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) embarks on a May-December relationship with seventeen-year old high school senior Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) who in many ways is more grounded and mature than Isaac. Isaac’s best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is involved in an extra marital relationship with writer Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton) even though his twelve year marriage to Emily (Anne Byrne) is still going strong. Mary’s flaky personality is at first a turn off for Isaac, but as he gets to know her, he begins to find their like-minded complaints against society’s foibles something that unites them, and when Mary calls off the affair with Yale, Isaac ends his relationship with Tracy in order to pursue Mary. But both high strung writers have gnawing doubts about the loves they’ve left behind.
To the enveloping strains of George Gershwin’s entrancing music, the comedy and drama of Manhattan takes on a magisterial glow that’s practically indescribable. The three central characters whose minds and hearts are so flighty and variable keep the relationships in this movie on an ever-thin thread of hope on one side and despair on the other, and with the expert writing, the smooth direction, and the spot-on performances, one is never sure on which side he’ll land once the thread is snapped. With no sunny nostalgia of his childhood days to smooth away the anxiety as he had in Annie Hall, Allen goes for the jugular with these people letting hearts and lives be possibly irrevocably broken on the whims of the heart’s desire of the moment. Filmed in black and white, the film often focuses on the black and white emotions of love and hate, happiness and dissatisfaction in equal measure, and though New York City looks simply beautiful through the lens of crack cinematographer Gordon Willis (including one of the most breathtaking montages of New York City ever captured on film with the captivating “Rhapsody in Blue” on the soundtrack), the emotions on display are messy and complicated. Allen’s widescreen compositions are interesting, especially early on with Tracy and Isaac occupying opposite sides of the frame during a discussion, but by the end of the film, most of the central characters are on opposite emotional sides from one another in some way or fashion.
Woody Allen gives his usual performance of anxiety-prone comic impatience though the darker tone of the film seems to deepen his own grasp of the character. Diane Keaton gives the movie its central focus as the dissatisfied Mary, full of pseudo-intellectual bravado masking lots of anger and deep insecurity, a character completely different from the ditzy, endearing Annie Hall which won her an Oscar under Allen’s direction. Michael Murphy plays the best friend with equal parts easy affection and undue stress about his matrimonial infidelity in an excellent performance. Mariel Hemingway earned one of the film’s two Oscar nominations as the sweet, unsullied Tracy, more grounded and real than the adults who swirl around her. In the small role as Isaac’s ex-wife who’s writing a tell-all book about their life together, Meryl Streep makes a stark impression (this was one of three supporting roles she played in 1979 that helped to really propel her into national prominence).
The film’s 2.35:1 Panavision theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is startling throughout the movie with the added resolution making any previous problems with aliasing or moiré a complete thing of the past. The grayscale is pleasingly delivered even if the black levels are not the deepest they could possibly be. Contrast, however, is expertly executed throughout. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers generally crisp, effective sound. The Gershwin tunes sound simply radiant on the soundtrack, and there is no problem with hiss, crackle, flutter, or any other age-related artifacts. Dialogue, however, sometimes seems to be just a tad soft occasionally getting overpowered a bit by the music or sound effects on the track.
The theatrical trailer is offered in 1080p and runs for 3 ¼ minutes. It is not in as pristine condition as the feature transfer, however.
4/5 (not an average)
Woody Allen’s first film in black and white, Manhattan shows a filmmaker appreciably maturing into a real artist with pictures as well as with words. The Blu-ray release constitutes the best by far transfer of this marvelous film and comes greatly recommended.