Every time a new movie is released from the Coen Brothers people get excited. And why not as their cinematic history is proven with efforts such as No Country for Old Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo and The Big Lebowski to their names. So in 2009 the world watched as their latest move, A Serious Man was released...
Physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) can't believe his life: His wife is leaving him for his best friend. His unemployed brother won't move off the couch. Someone is threatening his career. His kids are a mystery, and his neighbour is tormenting him by sunbathing nude. Struggling to make sense of it all, Larry consults three different rabbis and their answers lead him on a twisted journey of faith, family delinquent behaviour and mortality.
Prior to seeing this movie I had heard so many good things about it from friends, as well as comments and reviews on the Internet that it went straight to the top of the review pile. But having now seen the movie I have to ask, were they really in love with this movie, or are they in love with the Coen Brothers. For me, A Serious Man was a serious let down, except for one aspect, the acting. Michael Stuhlbarg plays the lead character of Larry and is quite brilliant as his life crumbles around him, and he starts to question his faith. The performance here is quite exceptional. Fortunately Michael is surrounded by a brilliant supporting cast including Richard Kind who plays his brother Arthur, Sari Lennick as his wife Judith and Fred Melamed who plays Judith's new love interest Sy Ableman.
I'm not Jewish, nor religious, so perhaps I'm missing the point to a lot of the movie, but I'm not an idiot either nor closed to the idea, or acceptance, of other religions, topics or experiences. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the most endearing part of this movie was gaining some insight into 1967 Jewish culture. To reflect the different cultures the Coen Brothers have used English, Yiddish, and Hebrew dialogue with clear subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
A Serious Man was a major disappointment. Admittedly I'm not a massive fan of the Coen Brothers in general, but this feels like one of their weakest efforts to date despite some good characters, acting and direction. For me, one viewing was enough, so a rental would suffice for most.
One positive to A Serious Man on Blu-Ray is the video transfer which is quite gorgeous to say the least. Now we must point out that the engrossing opening to the movie which is set in Poland around a century ago is intentionally not in a widescreen aspect ratio (it's 4:3), and has degradation on the films edges to give a very early film look - that's deliberate. Following the credits though the film opens up to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the AVC MPEG-4 codec has been given plenty of room to breathe. Even when the scenes are fairly static the bitrate often hovers around 25Mbps providing a very sharp, detailed image free of compression artifacts. It's actually hard imagining this film looking any better then what is currently presented.
The disc also includes Spanish and French DTS 5.1 tracks each encoded at 768kbps with each sounding fairly impressive in their own right. This Blu-Ray disc also includes subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish and brief samples of the English trak didn't show any glaring issues.
So we weren't in love with this movie, but the Coen Brothers are certainly master filmmakers. It's disappointing then that there is next to no bonus content on this disc. Before you get to the main menu however you will be presented with a series of trailers download off the web and running at 720p. We saw trailers for The Wolfman, Love Happens, Battlestar Galactica, Vampires Assistant, Couples Retreat to name a few in the times we loaded this disc (they changed at each load up).
Becoming Serious (17:04/HD): It runs for just over 17 minutes but the Coen Brothers as well as some other participants from the cast and crew provide some great insights into the story and making of this movie. We found this a lot more interesting then the actual movie actually and I certainly wish this had run much longer.
Creating 1967 (13:43/HD): This second featurette is a decent look at how the filmmakers re-created 1967 for this film. Covered are the styles of the time from the architecture, to the clothing, and the interior decorations.
Review By: Dave Warner