DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Vera Drake

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Michael Elliott, Mar 22, 2005.

  1. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

    Jul 11, 2003
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    Real Name:
    Michael Elliott

    Vera Drake


    Studio: New Line
    Year: 2004
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 125 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo Surround
    Subtitles: English, Spanish
    Retail Price: $29.95

    Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) is a happy and hard working woman who spends her evenings cleaning the house’s of rich people while at night taking care of her own home, which includes a husband and two children. Vera is the type of person that always has a smile on her face and this smile often comes from helping others out. Vera has made it a personal goal to help out whoever she can no matter the effect it might have on her. Not only does she cook and clean for people but when young girls get in trouble, trouble meaning pregnant and can’t keep the kid for whatever reason, Vera is there to help with the abortion. She keeps this a secret from her family but when one of the girls she helped nearly dies the police get involved and soon Vera’s worst fears of her family finding out comes true.

    British director Mike Leigh is one of the most fascinating people making films today because he goes to no extremes in trying to make his film commercial and he usually uses unknown actors who can portray an actual human and not something we’d expect to see on a reality television show. There’s no question Leigh is an acquired taste and even the most harden film fans might find themselves very disturbed or haunted by Leigh’s honest and quite brutal storytelling. Vera Drake received the best reviews since Secrets and Lies and mopped up awards from around the world with Imelda Staunton winning Best Actress from critics in Chicago, Toronto, San Diego, New York and Los Angeles, only to name a few.

    Vera Drake isn’t a film about abortion nor should it be looked at as being pro-abortion or anti-abortion. I’m sure people from both sides will try and pull the film into their corner but director Leigh never makes the mistake of trying to place innocence or guilt on Vera. This is one of the key factors to the film’s success because each viewer out their will have different opinions on Vera and the crimes she’s charged with just as her family in the film shares different views. A lesser writer and director, especially one working in Hollywood, would have turned this film into some rights movement and this here would have killed the heart of the story.

    The film is very simply a character study where our character, out of the goodness of her heart, breaks the law, which some would say is a criminal no matter what her intentions were. Not once does Vera think of herself while doing the abortions and even when she’s arrested her thoughts are with the young victim and her family who she fears will suffer the most from these crimes. In the final forty minutes the director, for the first time in the film, really takes the spotlight off of Vera and shines it on her family and their reactions to the events going on.

    From the opening scene we see Vera as a woman with a smile on her face even though she’s living in near poverty. We see her helping cripples feel comfortable, fixing tea for the elderly and taking in people for supper who have no other place to go. Vera does these things out of the goodness of her heart and the same is true for her abortions. Not only does this make her feel good about herself but it makes those around her feel good and Leigh even goes a step further by showing how Vera’s kindness makes her own family feel better about themselves.

    The director spends the first seventy minutes introducing us to Vera, her surroundings and her family. These minutes are full of touching scenes but for the most part there’s a bitter sadness hiding behind all of it. When Vera is finally arrested the film goes from somber to downright depressing and haunting all at the same time. The interrogation scenes are some of the rawest, emotional scenes of recent memory and any actor should really take a look at Staunton to see what it means to really become a character. The sadness and heartache she displays without saying a word is something to truly behold. I’m a firm believer that a great actor doesn’t need dialogue to show their feelings to an audience and the performance here proves that at every level.

    Staunton got most of the acting credit but the entire cast really shines and makes this film what it is. Fans of silent films will often tell people that silent segments are the most powerful scenes even in a sound film and that too can be proven here. The best scenes in the movie happen with no dialogue but we can just see the look on the faces of the actors and that’s tells us everything we need to know. One example is when the family first learns what Vera has been arrested for. You can tell all three are shocked but one of them is outright angered that his mother could help something be killed. No words are spoken but this two minute silent segment says more than fifty lines of dialogue could. Another example is after the interrogation when Vera has to finally break down and tell her husband why she’s been arrested. The humiliation and fear in her eyes once again tells us everything we need to know.

    Vera Drake has won critical praise by nearly everyone who has viewed it but I’m sure most will be hitting the stop button twenty minutes in. Director Leigh is one of the most respected directors out there yet not too many bother to see his films because some would consider them too slow or too painful to watch. His films, including this one, are slow and they are painful but they’re slow so that the viewer can learn and understand the characters. The films are painful because we learn to love and care for these characters and we worry about their future. This is something American films don’t do simply because the studios don’t have the guts to make something like Vera Drake, which is a shame, even if understandable.

    VIDEO---The movie is shown widescreen (1.85:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Some might take a look at this transfer and complain about the excessive grain, which is very visible during the darker scenes but rest assure, this is how the director wants the film to look. While I didn’t see this in the theater I have seen previous Leigh films and grain usually plays a part in the look of the film. With that in mind, New Line once again delivers a very nice transfer but there’s one thing that seems to be becoming the norm with newer releases. For the life of me I can’t understand why we’re getting speckles in films that were released less than a year ago. I expect speckles on a fifty year old film but this film here isn’t a year old so why speckles are showing up is beyond me. This here is really nitpick central because the speckles are never an obvious problem and if you aren’t looking for them then I doubt you’ll notice. It goes without saying that the bigger your television/screen then the more noticeable they’ll be. Another minor problem is some edge enhancement, which is clearly visible in a few of the earlier scenes but after this I never noticed it again. The rest of the transfer looks natural to how the film is suppose to look. Depending on the mood the director is going for in a certain scene, each scene has a different look that could use natural lighting, dim lighting or in some cases overly bright lights. All of this effects the sharpness level as well as flesh tones so you’ll be seeing something different in each of these scenes. To my eyes everything looked quite normal and right on the mark. The color levels are the most eye catching, especially the stuff with the overly lit scenes because the details in the color really leap off the screen. As I mentioned earlier, many of the darker moments are full of noticeable grain but this here is just part of the film transfer itself.

    AUDIO---We get a Dolby Digital 5.1 track as well as a DTS Surround track. Once again I think studios are just putting these DTS tracks on there so that supporters of DTS might pick up a film they normally wouldn’t have. As is the case recently, I went through both tracks and really couldn’t tell a difference between the two. At one point I actually forgot which track I was listening to because I couldn’t tell the difference. Both tracks, for what they are, sound very good and perfectly capture the mood of the film. This is a dialogue driven film and this here stays in the center speaker throughout the film. The dialogue is crisp, clear and detailed throughout the film and packs a nice bit of range as well. The Surrounds are basically used for the music score, which sounds incredibly nice here and various sound effects ranging from footsteps to boiling water. These smaller effects sound very clear but thankfully never step into the way of the dialogue. A 2.0 Surround track is also included with English and Spanish subtitles.

    EXTRAS---For some reason New Line has pretty much no extras here. We get the film’s theatrical trailer as well as trailers for Dancer in the Dark and Birth.

    OVERALL---Mike Leigh delivers another wonderful, personal and emotional film, which I personally feel is the best of his career. Even though I really loved this film I seriously doubt I’ll ever need to watch it again so on that level this is pretty much a rental first. If you know what you’re getting from Leigh and have enjoyed his previous films then you’ll want to buy this one but newbies to the director should probably stick with a rental. New Line delivers a nice transfer, although I’m curious why a film this recent has speckles on the print. The 5.1 and DTS tracks both sound very good even though there isn’t any difference in the two.

    Release Date: March 29th, 2005
  2. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

    Sep 13, 1999
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    Started it this morning, and couldn't stop - quite compelling! had a doctor also come in and ask for it.
  3. Will*B

    Will*B Supporting Actor

    Aug 12, 2003
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    London, England
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    A possible reason for so much grain on the picture is that Leigh shot Vera Drake in Super 16.

    It was then blown up to 35mm, which might account for the excessive grain. This was as much a budgetary decision as it was a creative one.
  4. Eric Peterson

    Eric Peterson Cinematographer

    Aug 2, 2001
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    I really, really want to see this movie and was planning on a blind buy. However, with ZERO extras this now relegates this movie to the rental category. If I enjoy it, I'll hold out for a used copy or a re-release.
  5. ZacharyTait

    ZacharyTait Cinematographer

    Aug 10, 2003
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    I find it scary that this movie, which got 3 Oscar nominations, gets virtually no extras, while the POS that is Son of the Mask is loaded with extras.

    I know that SOTM made about 5x as much as Vera Drake, but I would think that New Line would give extra TLC to an award winning, critically acclaimed film such as Vera Drake.

    This one is in my Netflix rental list.
  6. Jay E

    Jay E Cinematographer

    May 30, 2000
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    As with Leigh's previous film All or Nothing, I'll pick up the region 2 UK-DVD as it at least contains a documentary.
  7. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

    Jun 19, 1999
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    As usual, a great film by Mike Leigh. One of the best films of 2004.

    Imelda Staunton deserved an Oscar for her performance.
  8. AlexHL

    AlexHL Stunt Coordinator

    Feb 28, 2003
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    I absolutely agree.
    Great, intelligent review Michael.
  9. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?

    Dec 1, 1999
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    Disney World and Universal Florida
    Real Name:
    Tony D.
    does anyone else think the two trailers were an odd choice to include?

    one for "before night falls" and another for "dancer in the dark".
    two dvds that have been out for a long time.
    even odder is the "FALL 2000" proclamation after dancer.

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