When a performance is as universally hailed as Sally Field’s was for Norma Rae, attention must be paid, and it’s wonderful to report that even after the span of more than three decades, her work in this character-driven period drama remains riveting and unquestionably one of her career high points. The film’s narrative has a few rough edges with some plot threads that haven’t been satisfactorily investigated, but the movie’s overall effect remains inspiring and triumphant and is inarguably worthy of repeat visits.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono), Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 54 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/01/2014
Feisty Norma Rae (Sally Field) has been working in the local textile mill for quite a few years alongside both her mother (Barbara Baxley) and her father (Pat Hingle). The job is demanding and the pay not so great, but Norma’s primary concern is that the years working in the harsh mill conditions are having serious effects on her parents’ health. Thus, when a union organizer (Ron Leibman) arrives looking to organize the local beaten-down workers, Norma Rae’s initial interest is all he needs to get a toehold into the local social scene. But it’s a frustrating uphill struggle for them both to try to draw in the townsfolk openly resistant to both change and a Yankee and to deal with the mill executives who are not above playing their own brand of dirty pool to keep the workers under their thumbs.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
All of Norma’s valiant efforts to rev up support for the union, both with Leibman’s Reuben and on her own continually standing up to the bullying mill executives, offer Sally Field the opportunity of a lifetime to play this determined, unashamed woman who owns her past mistakes (including numerous lovers – many of them married men – and an illegitimate child as the result) and yet faces the world head-on without an ounce of remorse and with more grit and determination than the starting offensive line of an NFL team. Where screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank go a bit off course is with the inclusion of a new marriage for Norma (to Beau Bridges’ surprisingly sensitive and interesting Sonny, a character that gets shafted in character development). That aspect of her life isn’t given the expansion it demands (only a few scenes to hit the high spots – an initial date, a proposal, a wedding, and a scene of discord as he objects to the time she’s spending at union headquarters and away from her family obligations), and yet its inclusion stretches the running time of the movie to almost two hours when clearly the struggle and growing support for the union is the film’s raison d'être. Director Martin Ritt handles the drama in his customarily straightforward and yet all-encompassing way, filming interesting character-expanding scenes for Norma and Reuben at the shabby union headquarters motel room and at a creek where they go to cool off. And while he might not milk the climactic union vote for all its inbred suspense, it’s tense enough to hold our attention.
Beginning with the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Sally Field swept every conceivable critics and film society prize for her performance, and seldom had the honor been more deserved. There’s nary a false step in her depiction of this ill-educated but eager-to-learn young textile worker, and the moment when she defiantly stands atop a table for the union and then is carried kicking and screaming from the mill is the stuff of legends. Ron Leibman brings more charm to the part than he usually expended in other film and television roles and makes for a wonderful instructor for Norma’s transformation. Beau Bridges has screen charisma to spare (his proposal scene to Norma, more practical in nature than filled with hearts and flowers, is especially memorable) even though his character is let down by the screenwriters. Pat Hingle scores some expressive bits as Norma’s spirited father, and Gail Strickland as Norma’s best friend Bonnie also enlivens a few moments of the movie.
The film’s Panavision 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Previous home video versions of the movie have always been rather brownish and dull in appearance, and while the production design does emphasize the drabness of these people’s dead-end existences, this new encode has some impressive snap in its sharpness and color timing. Flesh tones are realistic, and details can be seen in hair, clothes, and facial features. Black levels aren’t the deepest they might have been, and shadow detail occasionally comes up lacking, but this is still the finest the movie has ever looked on disc. The film has been divided into 32 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix has been excellently processed to eliminate any age-related hiss and noise. And fidelity is quite good in reproducing the ear-shattering cacophony inside the weaving and spooling rooms in the mill sequences. Dialogue has been well recorded and is always discernible except when conversations going on among the eardrum-piercing machines are meant to be drowned out. David Shire’s spare music score and the Oscar-winning “It Goes Like It Goes” by Shire and Norman Gimbel as sung by Jennifer Warnes which plays over the opening and closing credits have more resonance than one might expect from a mono encode from this era.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Hollywood Backstory: Norma Rae (25:13, SD): another in the series of excellent AMC behind-the-scenes documentaries concerning films made by Fox features comments from actors Sally Field and Ron Leibman, director of photography John Alonzo, and producer Tamara Asseyev.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:37, SD)
Norma Rae is one of those personal character-driven films that rarely gets made any more (Philomena is one such recent exception), and it plays just as divertingly today as it did during its premiere release. The Blu-ray picture and sound represent its best-ever home video incarnation and come with high recommendations.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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