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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » George Washington: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
George Washington: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // March 11, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted March 10, 2014 | E-mail the Author

Undoubtedly influenced by the likes of Terence Malick, director David Gordon Green's debut feature George Washington (2000) includes no shortage of sun-soaked "magic hour" shots and ponderous voice-over narration. Not surprisingly, there's very little plot: the film depicts a handful of impoverished kids and adults in North Carolina, both before and after a terrible accident rocks the rural community. The kids are the main focus, especially George (a soft-spoken boy whose physical handicap makes him a wallflower), Buddy (a small but energetic young boy) and Nasia (more or less the focal point, whose attention is divided between the two), while most of the adults aren't more advanced in maturity.

In the film's accompanying audio commentary, Green (Pineapple Express, Prince Avalanche) admits a number of things: he used just 50,000 feet of film, few of the actors were professional and most of the scenes were improvised (not to mention, of course, that the director was only in his early 20s). It's a revealing and sincere shot of honesty when someone doesn't puff up what amounts to "naked baby photos", and most of that sincerity translates to the characters on-screen. These are kids who---despite their participation in things beyond their years---are still young, scared, cocky, vulnerable, invincible and immature. What happens to them is of less interest, for better or worse: the "big event", sadly, doesn't end up being the focus of the film, even if it obviously has an effect on everyone involved. Essentially, what starts out as an promising film takes a sharp turn and just kind of flounders during its second half. Nothing gets solved and what felt like high stakes doesn't amount to much...and maybe that's the point, but the end result is a film that wanted to dig deep but ran out of time (or money) before anything game-changing happened.

There are bright spots, of course. All three lead child actors turn in terrific performances more often than not, while the adults also carry more than their own weight, including Paul Schneider (Parks and Recreation) in his film debut. The film's rusty, sun-soaked cinematography offers a memorable backdrop and the narration, while overcooked at times, doesn't offend nearly as much as most of Malick's output. In the end, George Washington is an impressive debut for someone fresh out of film school, but it's not quite as weighty and effective as first-time viewers might hope it will be.

Criterion's original 2002 DVD offered a lot of support for George Washington, including an audio commentary, student films by the director and even a cast reunion. Sadly, this Dual-Format Edition adds nothing new to the extras, although at least the A/V presentation gets an expected boost in quality. It's definitely not the strongest film in Criterion's back catalog...but even if the story doesn't grab you, there's still enough here to make George Washington worth a look.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Criterion's carefully worded claim of a "restored high-definition digital transfer" implies that this Blu-ray was sourced from the same master as their 2002 DVD release, but that's not necessarily a deal-breaker. This 1080p transfer, framed at the film's original 2.35:1 aspect radio, still looks very good overall and boasts a consistent level of clarity and texture. Obviously borrowing from the playbook of Terence Malick, cinematographer Tim Orr bathes George Washington in a warm, golden glow that feels nicely saturated during most outdoor sequences. No flagrant digital issues, including edge enhancement, interlacing or excessive digital noise reduction, could be spotted from start to finish. So while there may be a little room for improvement, I doubt many fans will be disappointed with Criterion's efforts for this release.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

The DVD's original 2.0 Stereo track has apparently been expanded to a more robust DTS-HD 2.0 Surround mix, and the results are largely pleasing. This dialogue-driven film mostly stays up front while music cues provide the majority of simulated surround effects, creating a solid listening experience that stays true to the source material. Unfortunately, optional English SDH subtitles have been provided during the main feature but none of the supplements. Why not?

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

As usual, Criterion's menu interface is smooth and easy to navigate on both formats. This two-disc set is locked for Region A/1 players only; it's packaged in the studio's trademark "stocky" keepcase with overlapping hubs and attractive two-sided artwork. The booklet features a reprinted essay written by critic Armond White before he became a troll.

Bonus Features

Exactly the same as Criterion's 2002 DVD, which seems a little lazy considering the twelve-year gap and this release's price point. Just for the record, these recycled supplements include an Audio Commentary with director David Gordon Green, cinematographer Tim Orr, and actor Paul Schneider (Rico Rice); two 1990s Student Films by Green (Pleasant Grove and Physical Pinball); Clu Gulager's influential 1969 short film A Day with the Boys; a Deleted Scene with optional commentary; a Charlie Rose Interview segment with Green; a 2001 Cast Reunion; and the film's Theatrical Trailer.

Final Thoughts

David Gordon Green's debut film George Washington (2000) is, at times, an interesting look at characters truly limited by the decaying rural landscape around them. The film's terrific cinematography and fine performances easily outpace is paper-thin plot and disappointing third act. Criterion's Dual-Format release offers a modest upgrade from their 2002 DVD, pairing a solid A/V presentation with a handful of interesting but dated extras. Not the studio's most ambitious effort...so while fans of George Washington may want to indulge, everyone else should try this one out first. Rent It.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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