About a month ago, the buzz on the Internet was about a film that I had never heard of, from a first time director, a first time screenwriter, and starring Kevin Spacey. It was Kevin Spacey's participation that caught my eye. I have been in love with Spacey's work ever since seeing "Seven" and "The Usual Suspects." So I started to pay attention to this little film, "American Beauty." After seeing the trailer with its sublime tagline "Look Closer", my expectations soared. I knew if this film was anything less than a masterpiece, I would be disappointed.
I was not disappointed.
American Beauty is an incredible movie. It's that simple. Don't even wait to finish this review; go out and see this movie. I have seen nearly every major studio release this year, and "American Beauty" is easily the best movie that I've seen in a long time.
Director Sam Mendes and scriptwriter Alan Ball are new to the world of film, but they already have the skill of old pros. While "American Beauty" is Mendes first film, he has been honing his skills as a theater director; he most recently directed "The Blue Room" starring Nicole Kidman on Broadway. Alan Ball has been a sitcom writer for years on shows such as "Cybill" and the new "Oh Grow Up." Their first film shows great promise for years to come. The camera work and lighting is quite impressive, bringing out the emotion that the characters are going through in very visual ways.
The plot is deceptively simple. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) has grown depressed with life. He has a dead-end job at an advertising company, the love has gone out of his marriage, and he's lost his connection with Jane, his daughter. Then he meets Angela and falls for her hard. The only problem is Angela is a friend of Jane's, still in high school. Lester's crush on Angela inspires him to work out, to quit his job, and to try to put joy back into his life. This is just the primary plot. The plot also includes Lester's new next door neighbors: ex-Marine Colonel Fitts and his son, Ricky, a romance between Ricky and Jane, and Lester's wife cheating on him with the "king" of real estate, Buddy Kane.
The acting is where this movie really shines. The acting is uniformly excellent, but there are two actors especially of note. Kevin Spacey is a god. This man can act. As impressive as his past performances have been, his performance in "American Beauty" puts them all to shame. If he doesn't win an Oscar for his performance as Lester Burnham, there's no justice in the world. His portrayal of a man seeking escape from the normality of his life is priceless. The other actor of note is Wes Bentley as Lester's neighbor and local drug dealer, Ricky. Bentley brings an incredible intensity as Ricky, a young high school boy fresh out of the mental hospital, with the hobby of filming everything he can. In one of the most incredible scenes in the movie, Ricky shows Jane "the most beautiful thing" he's ever taped: a plastic bag caught in a small whirlwind. What would appear as a piece of trash to most brings us to the "message" of the film. "Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel I can't take it." Where everyone else sees an ugly world, it takes a drug dealer to see the beauty.
I left this movie more aware of the world around me. If nothing else, "American Beauty" will leave you a little more conscious of the joy in the world around you, despite all your pain.
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