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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Possession
Possession
Universal // R // February 11, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 5, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

"Possession" is the movie that few probably expected from writer/director Neil Labute. While I certainly appreciate a director attempting to do something different, "Possession"'s quiet period piece is certainly far from the director's prior tales of anger boiling beneath the surface ("In the Company of Men", "Nurse Betty" and "Your Friends and Neighbors").

An adaptation of the novel by A.S. Byatt, "Possession" chronicles two different romances in two different time periods. As the film opens in the present, we are introduced to researcher Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart), who has recently arrived in London to explore the history of Victorian poet laureate Randolph Henry Ash (played in flashbacks by Jeremy Northam). When reading one of the poet's books in a museum, he comes across handwritten notes from the poet stuck in-between pages. No mere scribblings, the notes show that the poet, thought to be a model citizen, actually had an affair with poet Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle in flashbacks), who was already having a relationship with a woman at the time.

Roland is sent to Dr. Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), a scholar and expert on Christabel LaMotte, who is at first irritated by this American, then starts to become interested in his quest to find the truth of this romance from the past. Of course, as they find more clues, they find themselves beginning to fall for one another, as well.

Essentially a film about two people doing research, "Possession" still manages to remain reasonably involving. While the picture starts off a bit slowly, it slowly gathers steam as the two finally start digging further towards the truth. The film's enjoyment is due to a few things: the acting is excellent, especially from Paltrow and Northam, although both have been better elsewhere. While Eckhart is a good actor and does fairly well here, he seems rather out-of-place with the tone and cast (there's also a few too many statements from the other characters about how Eckhart's character is American). Eckhart also doesn't seem like a particularly good match for Paltrow, and while they work together passibly, their romance is only just okay. The romance from the past is consistently more enjoyable to watch, as it's presented in a more emotional and powerful fashion.

The film is technically exceptional on all levels and certainly an impressive step up from the director's prior films. Jean-Yves Escoffier's cinematography captures the scenery in extraordinary fashion and composes beautiful imagery. Gabriel Yared's light, gorgeous score adds greatly to scenes, but never calls attention to itself. The film's editing is also excellent.

I found myself enjoying this film very much, despite its occasional faults. It's quiet (maybe a bit too much at times), elegant and generally acted quite superbly. While Labute's prior films were impressive in their own ways, this new side of the director is certainly a positive one and hopefully, he will continue to try new genres in future works.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Possession" is presented by Universal Studios in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. While not quite perfect, this is a fantastic effort from Universal that presents the film's beautiful imagery with only a few tiny concerns. Sharpness and detail are excellent, while the picture consistently looks smooth, crisp and "film-like".

The film's natural, clean appearance here is due in part to the fact that there are a minimum of faults. Edge enhancement is very rarely seen and even when present, is hardly visible. Only a couple of specks are noticed on the print used, while no compression artifacts are spotted.

The film's color palette is somewhat subdued, but still natural and beautiful in appearance. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. This is a stellar effort from the studio.

SOUND: The film is presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a nice soundtrack, although it's about as subdued as the film itself usually is. Surrounds are used subtly (and somewhat inconsistently) for minor ambience or the occasional reinforcement of the score. The score is presented with fine clarity, warmth and detail, while dialogue remained crisp and natural-sounding. This is a pleasant, enjoyable audio experience, although nothing really beyond expectations, considering the genre.

EXTRAS: The only supplemental feature (aside from the film's trailer) here is a commentary from director Neil Labute. The director provides an intelligent, organized discussion of the production of the film. He focuses on the work he and his co-writers did on adapting the beloved novel, working with the actors and casting choices, as well as production issues such as chosing locations. The commentary does mostly focus on characters and story, but Labute does occasionally return to technical and production talk. There seemed to be hardly a lengthy moment of silence throughout, as Labute is able to talk throughout the majority of the track.

Final Thoughts: It hits some slow spots at times and the modern romance doesn't always work entirely well, but "Possession" remains an enjoyable mystery with fine performances. Universal's DVD is light on supplements, but it does provide very good audio/video quality.

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