I haven’t seen The Hours. And I haven’t seen Chicago. And while all the Oscar talk seemed to revolve around either Kidman or Zellweger, after seeing Far From Heaven, I’ve gotta think that the wrong woman got the brass ring. Or gold little guy, whatever. Julianne Moore (who was also nominated in The Hours) does an outstanding job in this movie, set in 1957 Hartford. Moore plays Kathy Whitaker, the wife of a man (Dennis Quaid, Innerspace) who she surprises at work w…th dinner one night. The tables are turned when she discovers him in the arms (and mouth) of another man. What sets this movie apart from other films which are set in the 50’s or 60’s is the amazing grasp that writer-director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) has on the times in terms of his story. The word “homosexuality” isn’t uttered for some time after Kathy walks in on Frank. Frank (Quaid) seeks therapy after consulting his wife, and he talks of his “problem” as if he were talking about alcoholism. Moore’s friend Eleanor (Patricia Clarkson, The Green Mile) talks about another person being “light in the loafers.” Eventually, Moore finds comfort when interacting with her gardener, Raymond (Dennis Haysbert, 24), who is widowed, with a daughter. The looks and reactions she receives from the townspeople when it comes to her talking with, even touching Raymond, are astonishing, almost ridiculous. Frank even voices his displeasure at this in a jaw-dropping scene. All the while, Kathy tries to maintain the good appearance of her household, holding a dinner party for guests, keeping Frank’s behavior a secret to the public, and later, almost accepts Frank’s homosexuality in order not to disrupt the life she’s become accustomed to. After the dinner party, Frank hits Kathy, and Eleanor comes over the next day, to find the bruise on Kathy, and Kathy’s reticence in not admitting the fact that Frank hit her, disappoints Eleanor, and to a lesser extent, Kathy. There is a scene where Kathy and Frank are in Miami, and we see Kathy at the swimming pool, wearing rose colored sunglasses. Those sunglasses sum up Kathy’s existence, doing what she can to keep up her good community standing, despite robbing herself of the pleasing times she has with Raymond.
Moore’s performance is superb, and the rest of the cast, particularly Quaid, hit all the right notes. Quaid’s role is a departure for him, and was very well received critically. I remember Haysbert from the Pedro Cerrano days of Major League, and I don’t really watch 24, so I was unaware of his dramatic ability, and I was pleasantly surprised by it, performing with as much, if not more, warmth, than expected, and the character is full with compassion as it is. This is a movie, set in the 1950’s, with modern day 21st century honesty at the repression and the close-minded nature of the people of that era.
The movie comes with a French 2.0 Dolby Surround track, as well and an English 5.1 Dolby Digital and a DTS track. It is primarily a dialogue driven movie, but what is probably the predominant decision for the DTS inclusion is the outstanding score, done by Elmer Bernstein (who did a great job adapting Bernard Herrmann’s score to Cape Fear). Not only does it help contribute to the movie’s setting, but it also helps convey emotion when both during and between scenes. The DTS option is a welcome one.
The video, in a word, is perfect. As the movie is set in a Hartford fall, a lot of the autumn tones, the reds, browns, and greens are given excellent vibrancy, and some scenes are lit with a very deep blue, which also shows up very well on screen. The opening few minutes of the movie, which include the credits, had a very high transfer rate, which didn’t drop significantly or for any extended amount of time. A great job done by the Universal gang.
In terms of aesthetics, some message boards talked about the lack of an insert when opening the disc. The extras, while substantial and informative, don’t justify the missing insert. A 3×5 card saying “Here are the chapter stops” is the least they could have done here. It’s not like this is a midnight movie; this is a film with a good deal of critical acclaim. Now that the gripe is out of the way, the extras here are pretty decent.
To start, Todd Haynes provides a commentary track. He speaks of the material and the final film with great reverence, singling out crew members for lighting, and production design, among others, while mentioning the outstanding work that Moore, Haysbert and Quaid gave to the film. He also mentions Bernstein’s work on the score as well. He also talks about how the project came together, such as locations and wardrobes, and despite what you see on the screen caps here, that almost nothing artificial was added to the film, in terms of gels or reflectors, and the digital shots were virtually nonexistent. He notes that Moore is a great crier, which is justified after seeing the performance in this film. Haynes also mentions the 1955 Douglas Sirk film All That Heaven Allows, which is the story of an older woman (Jane Wyman) who falls in love with her much younger gardener (Rock Hudson), and the impact it has on her family and her community. All in all, Haynes commentary is very informative and well detailed, and provides good background into the making of the film.
The Sundance Channel produced an episode of “Anatomy of A Scene” surrounding the party scene, and it covers every aspect of it, from the costumes to the lighting and framing of the shots in the scene. At 26 minutes, it’s very well detailed, and honestly can be used on a larger scale to cover a film as well. The smaller, 12 minute “Making Of” featurette runs more along the lines of the traditional EPK, though interviews with Haysbert and Clarkson are included, along with footage from some of Sirk’s films. There is a Q & A with Haynes and Moore at the Harmony Gold theater, however this was only about 5 minutes in length, and easily more could have been included on it. The biographies for Moore, Quaid, Haysbert and Haynes are included, along with 2 film recommendations, 7 pages of production notes and the trailer.
Universal has put an overall solid effort into Far From Heaven. The transfer is outstanding, bringing out the colors in great detail, and the commentary is very informative. The film lives up to the praise heaped upon it, and it must be seen by those with even the slightest curiosity about it, to get a great modern perspective into the past.
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Making of Featurette
- “Anatomy of a Scene”
- “A Filmmaker’s Journey” with Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes