Adaptation Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review on the Lam: Labor Day

May 3, 2014Ben MK

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A love less ordinary

By Ben Mk

A convict on the loose. An agoraphobic single mother. A boy without a male role model to aspire to. It sounds more like a recipe for disaster than an unexpected romance; but if there's one lesson to be learned from director Jason Reitman's fifth feature film, Labor Day, it's that appearances can be deceiving. And that's certainly true of the film itself, as what starts out as just another mundane holiday weekend for a mother and her son is transformed into something altogether different — changing their lives forever.

Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day unfolds over the course of one long, hot — what else — Labor Day weekend in 1987, in the fictitious town of Holton Mills, where thirteen-year old Henry Wheeler (newcomer Gattlin Griffith) lives alone with his mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). By most measures, Henry is your average teenage boy. He has a pet hamster named Joe, enjoys reading comic books and is just beginning to develop a keen interest in the opposite sex. He's also a child of divorce, which in and of itself is nothing out of the ordinary, but ever since his father, Gerald (Clark Gregg), left them for his secretary, Marjorie, Adele hasn't been herself. Once vibrant and full of a zeal for life, Adele is now a depressed shut-in, only venturing outside of the house with Henry for their monthly shopping trip to the local Pricemart, to pick up supplies and groceries.

On one of these routine trips, they cross paths with Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), an escapee from Stinchfield Prison who has found his way to freedom by leaping out of a second floor hospital window after undergoing an appendectomy. A burly, bearded and intimidating figure, Frank convinces Adele and Henry to bring him home with them, where he plans to hide from the authorities until he can hitch a ride on the next freight train that passes through town. But with the long weekend upon them, that won't be a possibility for at least a few days. So until then, Frank has little choice but to hole up with Adele and Henry, resting the leg that he injured in his escape and contributing his fair share by doing odd jobs and household chores. He changes the oil in their car, replaces the furnace filter, cleans out the leaves from the rain gutter and even teaches them proper pie-making techniques. In the process, Adele and Henry begin to warm up to Frank, seeing in him something that's missing from their lives — for Adele, it's a partner, and for Henry, it's a father figure. Likewise, Frank recognizes something in the two of them — the family he never had. As the days slowly pass, Frank's presence rekindles a spark in Adele; and the two kindred spirits find themselves not only opening up to each other about their painful pasts — but also planning a future together.

The film may be a romance at heart, but only in the least conventional sense. There are elements of the story that are more akin to mystery — like Adele and Frank's individual histories, which slowly come into full view over the course of the story — and there are portions that are better classified as family drama — such as Henry's relationship with his father and his new family. Reitman skillfully folds each of these elements into the narrative, careful not to let any one aspect overshadow the others. Key to this is the film's deliberate pacing, which takes into consideration the actors' performances above all else, especially since much of the emotion is conveyed without words. Brolin excels at playing both sides of the coin and is compelling as both a hardened convict and a sensitive soul-searcher, while Winslet turns in a complex portrayal of a woman suffering the effects of psychological trauma. But it's Griffith's portrayal of a boy on the cusp of manhood that surprises the most, with a quiet performance that's as introspective as it is revealing.

Labor Day debuts on Blu-ray with an immaculate HD presentation. Shot on digital video, there isn't any film grain in the image to speak of, but each intricately crafted frame of the picture is awash in an abundance of fine detail. Cinematographer Eric Steelberg, who also lensed Reitman's last three films, helps to capture the raw emotion of the actors' performances using natural lighting techniques and an unfiltered color palette. The result is simple and understated but nonetheless impressive, and Paramount's Blu-ray transfer renders all of it with the utmost clarity. From the individual strands of Adele's flaxen hair to the beads of glistening sweat on exposed skin, nothing is too minor to be ignored. Colors — such as the fading yellow exterior of Adele's house — are neither too dull nor too vibrant, maintaining the film's realistic look; and contrast is excellent throughout, bestowing the image with convincing depth. The film's audio — even composer Rolfe Kent's unorthodox score (which relies just as much on everyday sounds as it does on melodies) — is appropriately subdued; and the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack handles all of the aural elements capably, giving the dialog, environmental effects and music plenty of room to breathe.

Aside from the usual DVD copy of the film and a code redeemable for iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies, Paramount's Blu-ray release includes a few HD extras. First up is the 29-minute featurette End of Summer: Making Labor Day, which provides some valuable insight into the intentions behind the book and the film, as well as touching on some of the considerations that went into the casting process, the production design and the score. This is followed by a collection of six Deleted Scenes (totalling 11 minutes), including a failed attempt at romance on the part of Adele's neighbor, Mr. Jervis (played by J.K. Simmons), and a brief scene showing the positive effect that Adele and Henry's encounter with Frank has on Henry's social life. There is also a feature-length audio commentary with director Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg and first assistant director/co-producer Jason Blumenfeld, in which they share notes and anecdotes about the film's production, including an amusing story about Josh Brolin's notorious pie-making skills.

From the story itself — an uncharacteristic choice, considering director Jason Reitman's filmmaking repertoire — to the performances — which are nuanced and multifaceted — Labor Day will pleasantly surprise viewers with its complex emotional entanglements and engrossing narrative. Paramount's Blu-ray release, on the other hand, doesn't surprise, offering up the kind of high-quality A/V presentation that might be expected of a recent theatrical release, plus a decent set of insightful extras, making Labor Day on Blu-ray truly worth celebrating.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★½

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