American Honey competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and one can see why. The film portrays a teenage girl on an American odyssey composed of filmmaking that utilizes the cinéma vérité style to capture all of the actions that take place for her and those she encounters. The film is rather long, but speaks to a number of different ideas that many can apply their own context too. With a good amount of praise and lots of end of the year awards consideration, American Honey is the kind of film many cinephiles certainly want to try and catch up with. Now the film is available on Blu-ray for all to explore for themselves.
The film features Sasha Lane in her debut performance as Star. Star is a teenage girl who leaves her life of nothing to join a traveling magazine sales crew. This crew is led by Krystal (Riley Keough), a no-nonsense manager of sorts, but Star is more taken by Jake (Shia LaBeouf), the best salesman of the group. As this journey that travels all over the country moves onward, Star deals with the perils of hustling clients, living in a unique lifestyle with many other lost youths and coming to understand her feelings for Jake.
It would be wrong to simply call this an indie love story, as that is merely one of the ideas present in this film. It’s also not a crime story. There’s too much going on for the film to simply be labeled a drama either. American Honey isn’t a film that defies genres (it’s basically an epic road movie), but it is certainly sprawling enough to not merely be defined by one thing. That said, the fact that it has an excessive 162 minute runtime is not exactly helpful.
Writer/director Andrea Arnold most certainly made the film she wanted to make and it shows, even if that means having to stick with such a long experience. Arnold’s style is fairly unique, as the cast merely gets parts of the script to perform during various stages of the shoot and even then, the dialogue and actions are largely improvised. That certainly shows here, but because of the handle on providing lived-in characters, it all feels quite natural.
This plays well for Lane, who must anchor this film and is able to do so quite well for a debut performance. She’s a bit limited, but that is part of the point, given how the character responds to what takes place around her. Given that the film works best as a character study, it manages to serve her well, but one has to wonder if future roles are in her future and will be able to have her channel the same strength to be as effective.
On the other side you have the very experience LaBeouf, who is also quite good. He is actually so good that it becomes frustrating to think about all the strange things he has done to himself, outside of acting. If LaBeouf was always meant to be more suited for indie films (much like Kristen Stewart), than this is a great example of what he is capable of. As Jake, LaBeouf portrays a deceptive character in terms of how he can lay on a level of charm, but have the audience not sure about his sincerity, yet still be likable. That’s tricky to pull off, but he does it.
Aside from the performances, this film does fine to observe various parts of America and observe how differing cultures can interact. There is an experimental nature to how it handles various plotlines and while not every narrative thread is properly resolved, there is something to admire in how it goes about showing you the various sides of this story. Additionally, the cinematography by Robbie Ryan does well to bring out the sense of freedom these characters believe themselves to have, no matter how ill-gotten it may be.
I may not have been enamored with American Honey the way others have been, but I also wasn’t unmotivated to explore the ideas the film presented. It has a sort of looseness that I could admire, especially given how compelling the character work was. The portrayal of this life was also intriguing enough, even though it meant spending such a long time in this world. It’s a fine piece of filmmaking, but it felt like quite the commitment to get through it.
Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Clarity/Detail: With a purposefully older style aspect ratio, it should be known that the digital presentation is still able to bring out a strong visual presentation that is handled well for this Blu-ray release. The style of this film allows for a variety of sights, but the clarity involved, particularly in the many outdoor scenes shines quite brightly. The natural elements are full of detail that register properly and even darker scenes play well in terms of portraying a clear picture.
Depth: Dimensionality comes across quite well here. Given the way American Honey relies on a lot of activity in the foreground and background, the use of focus comes into play often, which sometimes provides some blurriness, but never anything too off-putting.
Black Levels: Black levels are strong, deep and inky. No sign of crush and outdoor scenes at night look quite sharp.
Color Reproduction: Color pops here and allows for some very good-looking blues, greens and yellows in particular. The film is not drab in presentation, but the natural look would suggest it’s not full of amazing colors, but they do play well when they occur.
Flesh Tones: Facial textures come across well. There are a good amount of close ups that allow for a strong level of detail to be seen in the various actors on screen.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Dynamics: The audio track for this film is pretty great. Given a lot of the soundtrack cues, striking dialogue scenes and a general sound of the film, there is a lot to take in over the course of the film’s run time and it plays very well.
Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel gets to play around during scenes involving heavy soundtrack play.
Surround Sound Presentation: The natural element allows the film to utilize its multiple channels to bring out the ambient sounds, in addition to how the soundtrack factors in. Characters also speak from all over and it registers well in the balance of this audio track.
Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is loud and clear.
No such luck on getting any worthwhile extras here, beyond a brief interview.
- Sasha Lane and Riley Keough on American Honey (HD, 6:20) – An interview with these two that are cut into each other, with clips from the film. Pretty insubstantial.
- UltraViolet Coy of the Film.
American Honey is a long film to watch and I keep mentioning it because the film has no real reason to be this long. That said, it works for what it is in presenting an interesting character study. The Blu-ray presentation is pretty solid, with a great audio track that really helps out this disc in particular. There are basically no real extras to enjoy, but if you want to catch one of the more acclaimed indie films from this past summer, this is a film to watch.
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