Strangerland Blu-ray Review
Traumatic experiences, even when shared, bring stress into a group (a family being no different) such that many key relationships begin to deteriorate and may eventually dissolve. When experiences string together with traumatic stress the result is often even worse. Aren’t these moments, when we’re at our worst, when we’re supposed to be at our best? And if we can’t be that holier-than person, if we can’t overcome the trauma, we feel as though we’ve failed, things get worse, and the cycle continues.
Australian filmmaker Kim Farrant wanted to look at such heady material in her feature film debut, a new to Blu-ray film titled STRANGERLAND. She worked on the script for over 11 years and it is an actors showcase, a dream script for award-bait like stars Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. It has everything you could want in a family drama: people struggling on the edge of reality; relationships grounded enough to be realistic but in great tumult; even a unifying purpose to bring them together. It’s a shame, then, that the emotions feel so labored and forced, so over-the-top when the emotional mark was set so perfectly during the first few scenes.
In truth it probably isn’t the directing or the writing (both of which where Farrant’s purview) but a culmination of both of them and sour acting from Kidman and Fiennes. In an unsurprising turn (to me), Hugo Weaving actually steals the show as the small-town detective assigned to their case. His character is the most relatable even though it is the furthest from where most of us come, a testament to the character he portrays and the brutal honestly with which he plays it.
STRANGERLAND hints strongly at greatness during the first act, with the introduction of and almost immediate disappearance of Catherine (Kidman) and Matthew’s (Fiennes) children, Lily and Tom. Their discomfit within the rural outback town where they have been forced to move is clear from the beginning and both Lily and Tom have been acting out for some time, trying to get the attention of their increasingly detached parents.
In the end we’re left with not much story, a lot of frustratingly over-the-top dialogue, and a disjointed mess of a movie with STRANGERLAND. It feels almost as though Farrant couldn’t decide whether to make a procedural or a feature film and that she might have just greatly expanded the parent’s roles to meet the needs of a feature length project. That would explain the hurriedness, the lack of control that slowly erodes the story from universality into this depressing caricature of a dramatic life. I cannot recommend this one unless you are just a die-hard Kidman or Weaving fan and have to see everything they make.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.39:1) STRANGERLAND is presented in full HD but the muted color palette makes it a little bit difficult to tell sometimes. Still the picture is crisp and the film is nicely shot (aside from a few overly stylized sequences that feel more than a little out of place).
Audio: (English Dolby TrueHD 5.1) The audio for STRANGERLAND is a mixed bag. It’s very nicely mixed when at a very loud volume but the dialogue is otherwise very difficult to hear.
The Cast Featurette (08:23) The stars of STRANGERLAND talk about why they were interested in the film. Very much an actor’s showcase, STRANGERLAND obviously drew some high grade talent despite it being the director’s first feature project.
The Story Featurette (05:36) This special feature is focused on the plot behind STRANGERLAND, and the underlying themes and archetypes presented by the characters. It’s very interesting to hear the cast and crew talk about what drew them into such a difficult, slow burn of a film.
The STRANGERLAND Blu-ray is devoid of many of the features to which we have grown accustomed, with only a few trailers as the lone remaining ‘specials’.