American Beauty

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American Beauty 2American Beauty (1999)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Written by Alan Ball

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari, Chris Cooper

Lester Burnham (Spacey) faces a crisis when he becomes infatuated with Angela (Suvari), his teenaged daughter’s (Birch) best friend. As his old life falls apart, a new one emerges and Lester discovers new confidence and new challenges.

American Beauty 6At the 72nd Academy Awards this film was honored as the Best Picture winner. In total the movie won five Oscars out of eight nominations. The movie was directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall), who won Best Director for his work. The screenplay was written by Alan Ball (Towelhead), who also earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Kevin Spacey (Horrible Bosses) leads the cast that includes Annette Bening (Open Range), and Chris Cooper (The Town). Thora Birch (All I Want for Christmas), Wes Bentley (Interstellar), and Mena Suvari (American Pie) are also featured in this one.

American Beauty 4The writing done for this one does a great job with the great variety of deeply flawed characters. The dialogue seems designed to expound on those flaws while the action works on connecting the people to one another. In the end, this movie connects everyone in one way or another. (That’s not a spoiler.) While some of the connections are stronger than others, it’s those moments that bring out the true nature of each person. The story buried in this web of character dramas is a deeper look at the life of Lester Burnham. His story is a mix of drama, frustration, comedy and tragedy. The writing weaves all of these elements together in a memorable arc that pays off perfectly.

American Beauty 11The acting in this film is wonderful. Kevin Spacey does an excellent job anchoring this movie with a memorable performance. He seems to understand all of the emotions of his character, and plays them in a way that’s both interesting and easy to relate to. He also does a good job with the physical aspects of the role, which provide some of the better moments of the film. Spacey was awarded with the Oscar for Best Actor for his work on this one. He’s joined by Annette Bening, who gives one of the best performances of her career. She finds all of the right ways to play the micro-managing and insecure wife. She also has great chemistry with Spacey, which really makes both of their roles work. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her work on this one.

American Beauty 7Chris Cooper was another incredible addition to this film. His performance plays so strongly that it dramatically affects the tone of the film in every one of his scenes. His role evolves through some nice twists and turns in the writing, and he handles it all perfectly. Thora Birch is also great in this one. Her role as the uninterested daughter might have been played within the cliché, but she brings it a level of depth that’s worth noting. Wes Bentley is another good addition to this one. His role is one of the more complicated in the film, and he handles it with great skill. Like Birch, he might have played this within the expectations of the cliché. Instead, he finds something interesting within the role and his performance is great. He also has wonderful chemistry with Spacey, making for some great moments in the movie.

American Beauty 3Mena Suvari was given a small role that carries immense importance to the story. Her performance required her to play the spoiled teen, as well as the femme fatale. In a lot of ways her part is symbolic of the inner-struggle that each of the characters is going through. Luckily, she was able to grasp the bravado and the insecurity of her character and she plays them nicely.

American Beauty 8Cinematographer Conrad Hall (Road to Perdition) did a wonderful job with the visuals in this film. To provide contrast most of the film is shot in deliberate fashion which completely contrasts the chaos of the movie. It’s also a great way to depict the imperfect nature of people living in so-called perfect worlds. This is helped by the great use of lighting and color in the film as well. Red is used to great effect in highlighting some of the more important aspects of the story. Hall was awarded with an Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on this movie. The film also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing.

American Beauty 10In addition to the visuals, the film has a wonderful score. Thomas Newman (The Judge) put together a score that works to color the film more than to underscore it. The use of percussion makes up the majority of his work on the film, but it’s perfect for the story. Newman earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score for his work on American Beauty. The film was further accented by the use of a number of popular songs that seem fit for the moments they’re being used in. Like the visuals, the music feels restrained, even in moments of chaos. This creates a wonderful contrast that helps to make this movie great.

American Beauty 5This movie does an excellent job in telling a familiar story in a wonderfully fresh way. All of the elements come together in a movie that works almost perfectly. This might not be a film for everyone since it deals honestly with tough subjects. Sexuality, depression, and conformity all come together to create a very deep film. If you’re a fan of the stars, this is one worth checking out. I would also suggest this one to anyone who loves great cerebral drama. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: R

Running Time: 122 Minutes


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