If Beale Street Could Talk (Blu-ray Review)

It’s incredible to see so much power in If Beale Street Could Talk come from the way characters are presented to us. Intimate and personal, as well as alive and electric, director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up film to his Best Picture winner, Moonlight, continues to show what an incredible force he is as a director. The film is brimming with warmth and a well-crafted, non-linear story, and yet the ambition on display does not derive from an approach requiring overt displays of technical ingenuity. Instead, Jenkins relies on confidence afforded to him by his actors, and the various filmmakers he is working with. The result is a movie that deals with important themes and realistic scenarios while providing characters who are beaming with life. Now the film has arrived on Blu-ray to bring new regard to such a fantastic movie.


Beale Street is based on the 1974 novel by renowned writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin. The film is set in the same year as well, taking place in Harlem. As one could expect, it’s not as if much would need to be done to update the story to modern times, as the film is tackling some universal ideas, including the nature of love and sacrifice, as well as the social status of black people.

There’s an array of things that go with people of color during this (and any) time, and Beale Street could easily serve as a slice of life drama about living and what it means to become an adult and begin a family. Sadly, for all the tenderness found in this film, the drive of the story revolves around wrongful accusations as a result of racism, and imprisonment.

KiKi Layne stars as Clementine “Tish” Rivers, a 19-year old woman in love with Stephen James’ Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, a 22-year old sculptor. The two eventually become engaged, with Tish learning she is pregnant, but not before Fonny is placed in jail after being falsely accused of rape. The fact that the nature of Fonny’s arrest is presently topical in more ways than one only adds to the sort of impact his situation has on the story, but this movie is very much about detailing how things are rigged against people like Fonny and Tish.

Told with flashbacks, Beale Street doesn’t spend all its time going over the trials and tribulations of Fonny’s situation. Thanks to effective editing by Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, the weaving together of this tale never comes across as confusing. Instead, the film has a rhythm suited for properly exploring these characters.

We see earlier times in the lives of Tish and Fonny, watching important moments that best delve into the connection they share. Watching the two of them let their minds do the work when it comes to their future potential as far as homes and living says a lot about their hopes. How they relate to other friends, including Brian Tyree Henry in a brief but pivotal scene speaks to what kind of people they are and what is going on around them.

Plenty of time is also spent with Tish’s family. Regina King (in her Oscar-winning performance) and Colman Domingo co-star as her parents, with Teyonah Parris as Tish’s sister. While King has rightly earned the most accolades, a sequence featuring Tish and Fonny’s families accomplishes everything necessary to delve into who these people are, what kind of care they have for their children, each other, and how things can go from respectable to cruel in an instant. Jenkins adapted this story from Baldwin’s novel, but the care that goes into matching his words to character-defining moments goes a long way in having us understand the history of each character, regardless of how much time has been spent with them.

Beyond the effective storytelling is the other important layer bringing this film high up in its status as impactful dramatic filmmaking. The elegant construction is assembled so well thanks to a beautiful score by Nicholas Britell and brilliant cinematography by James Laxton. With memorable themes that hold onto the film’s tone so well, it’s hard to look at another score from this year in film and find it more fitting. At the same time, the look of Beale Street is a triumph.

While not a new concept, the rise in notable black filmmakers telling black-themed stories has also led to an increase in understanding of how to properly light black skin. As a result, Beale Street pulls off more than presenting an acceptable look for its characters. The film may go down darker paths given the status of Fonny through much of the film’s present timeline, but it never loses its excellent sense of color use.

This is a warmly shot film where everything comes alive thanks to appropriate lighting and a choice to stay away from equating saturation with sadness. An emotional story doesn’t need to be drained of color to inform the audience of what they need to feel, and Beale Street chose an applause-worthy direction as far as how we see homes, prison, streets, and any other environment in the way we do.

Of course, as stunning as the film looks, the sense of tragedy is sitting right in line with the striking depiction of romance and devotion to family. The difficulties of incarceration when it comes to black individuals is a necessary topic that is remarked upon throughout the story. Whether it’s the scene with Henry’s character who is an ex-convict dealing with life outside of jail, understanding the weight of being apprehended by police, or the sense of acceptance that comes with Fonny’s unfortunate predicament, we are witnessing a society that doesn’t traffic in fairness.

As mentioned earlier, this story could be updated to modern times and not be told differently. While this is a story that humanizes black men, it is still one that shows how optimism can come to a crashing halt. It’s a reflection of what Baldwin had seen, now put to film during a time when Jenkins continues to see the same thing.

On the positive side, Beale Street is the result of hard work from those making another kind of difference. The artistry on display to show a cinematic depiction of the black experience is something to look for. It helps that Jenkins is also in a time when creators such as himself have a voice in narrowing the gaps between what kinds of stories are given the most attention. There’s nothing like seeing how the past and present are both different and the same, and If Beale Street Could Talk, you should be sure to listen and see how it could affect your future.



Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1

Clarity/Detail: Thanks to the lovingly shot and framed work handled by cinematographer James Laxton, along with the efforts handled by the production design teams, and many others, Beale Street is the sort of film you hope a home release will do justice to. Fortunately, it does. The film is achingly beautiful in all the ways the little details are brought out the way they were intended. A great level of clarity allows for all the warm coloring to play as needed, with costumes, skin, and more all reflecting the balance needed to put such an immaculate production on display.

Depth: Depth of field is captured well here, with a level of dimensionality that comes across effectively. Thanks to the framing, you have many scenes that emphasize the placement of characters within various scenes, and it all plays great. Think of the times we see Fonny and Tish interact at the prison or the shots of King arriving in Puerto Rico. It all makes a difference when seeing it correctly.

Black Levels: Shadow and black levels are terrific throughout. The film features stylish lighting, which allows for darkness to come through often, and it all looks fantastic as a counterbalance to warm moments.

Color Reproduction: Colors look great. Costume design stands out especially, given how period-appropriate everything looks. Plus, just the look of these characters feels perfectly handled here.

Flesh Tones: Character detail is excellent. Facial textures are handled in all the right ways.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.


Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: This is a strong lossless track that manages to capture everything in the audio atmosphere for maximum effect. Jenkins teases what he felt when watching this film in a theater with a 7.1 mix, but the 5.1 track is still plenty sufficient. Between the dialogue, fantastic score, and general ambiance to convey a city symphony of sorts, there is plenty to enjoy in listening to the sounds here.

Low-Frequency Extension: The score has moments to challenge the LFE channel, but this is not a feature reliant on such an aspect.

Surround Sound Presentation: The film is front and center-focused, but you have plenty go on as far as the surrounding atmosphere. The balance is excellent, as you are never at a loss for getting to hear who is speaking, while still taking in the world around these characters.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard loud and clear.



While I wouldn’t say If Beale Street Could Talk is the sort of film that tends to receive the deluxe treatment when it comes to extra features, it would have been nice to get more than what we’re offered, such as a focus on Baldwin to a greater degree. That said, offering up a commentary and some other extras works well enough for this release.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary by Director Barry Jenkins – Jenkins delivers a wonderfully informed commentary, hitting on all the critical points about the making of this film. His soft-spoken ease provides just as much confidence as we see in the movie. He relates the essential aspects of the film well, shares stories from the production, and more. Well worth a listen.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 22:17) – Includes many scenes also found in the book that were ultimately excised, along with some other moments.
  • If Beale Street Could Talk: Poetry In Motion (HD, 27:35) – A nice making-of that allow the cast and crew to speak about the making of the film. I wish there were a more all-encompassing look at elements such as the score and cinematography, but there’s enough to work with here.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film



If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the best features 2018 had to offer and certainly one that sat high on my top ten list. Everything about this production wound up delivering in top-notch fashion, and it’s honestly a shame it could not receive more recognition in terms of well-deserved accolades. That said, this sort of thing matters little when a film’s legacy is held up, and Barry Jenkins delivered masterful work in his choice to make the first film based on one of James Baldwin’s novels. That in mind, this Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent, with a wonderful commentary and other extras to help round out this package. Enjoy what you get when picking up this disc.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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