Far From Heaven is an affecting period-drama from acclaimed writer and director Todd Haynes (Carol, I'm Not There). The film is centered around the personal trials and tribulations of Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) and Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid), a married couple going through difficult times as their relationship begins to change. Set against the backdrop of the ever-changing American landscape during the 1950's, Far From Heaven is a low-key and intimate portrait about the lives of many Americans. It is executive produced by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Unsane).
Cathy and Frank begin to face difficulties in their relationship as it becomes clear that there are issues facing their companionship beneath the surface. Frank is struggling with his repressed homosexuality and his desire for men while still loving his wife, Cathy. Meanwhile, Cathy starts to have feelings for gardener Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), an issue which is further-complicated by not just her marriage but the fact that he is African-American.
It doesn't take long for gossip to spread across the town. Close friends take a notice of what is going on between Cathy and Raymond. Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson), Cathy's best friend, is horrified by the rumors and tries to dismiss them as quickly as she hears murmurs. And behind-doors, Cathy is still in shock by finding out about her husband's homosexuality and tries to get him to go to gay conversion therapy.
The film explores many complex themes from gender identity (what roles men and women play in their relationships and in society), sexuality (how homosexuality was viewed during the 1950's and also the views on interracial relationships), and societal issues about wage and worker discrepancies. These themes and concepts are well explored and developed throughout the screenplay and filmmaking.
This was the last film scored by the brilliant Elmer Bernstein (Ghostbusters, Sweet Smell of Success). It's a beautiful score which manages to grip hold without letting go. The music has a quietly melancholic vibe that evokes many emotions. The cinematography by Edward Lachman (The Virgin Suicides, The Limey) uses color in a rather meticulous way to emphasis the emotional center of each scene. The cinematography is brilliantly realized with the color grading making a profound impact on the tone of the story.
The production design by Mark Friedberg (The Darjeeling Limited, Broken Flowers) does an effective job of realizing this 1950's storyline with a degree of authenticity that isn't easy to duplicate. Combine with the elegant costumes by Sandy Powell (The Favourite, The Young Victoria) and you have a true winner as a period-recreation.
Todd Haynes has made a quiet gem of a film with Far From Heaven. There's just something magical about it. It's a story about serious issues and themes yet it recognizes that the so-often idyllic portrait painted of 1950's America is just that... an idealized portrait. This film paints a story with authenticity which is not easy to ignore.
Far From Heaven arrives on Blu-ray from Kino with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation. The film is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
Having wondered when it would arrive on the format for several years, it's nice that a label decided to finally do something with this underappreciated film. Unfortunately, while the release offers a minor upgrade in detail the release still leaves one feeling disappointed by the lackluster effort which went into the film's photographic presentation.
The presentation suffers from baked in DNR (digital noise reduction) and edge enhancement. This is quite unfortunate as the cinematography itself is quite beautiful. Colors are somewhat muted but are still significantly better than the old DVD and offer a noticeable boost in color reproduction. This release ultimately feels heavily dated and like it was taken from the same source which was used to produce the original DVD (and with no updates or alterations from that source). That's a shame. The film could have looked so much better if handled properly with love and care for a restoration.
The audio is presented with lossless 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo DTS-HD Master Audio. The audio is nothing to swoon over on this release. The one area in which it feels like a noticeably nice upgrade is in the quality for the music score by Elmer Bernstein. Dialogue sounds clean and clear. However, sonic fidelity feels a bit limited and the film lacks much emphasis for the surround sound.
English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are also provided.
This release includes a number of previously released bonus features from the original DVD release. The extras have been ported over to be included on the new Blu-ray.
Audio Commentary with Director Todd Haynes
The Making of Far From Heaven (SD, 12 min.)
Anatomy of a Scene Featurette (SD, 28 min.) is a full-length episode from the Sundance channel about the film.
A Filmmaker's Experience with Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes (SD, 5 min.) features director and leading actress at a sit-down discussion about the film and their artistic process.
Theatrical Trailer for Far From Heaven and trailers for other Kino classic releases.
Far From Heaven is a terrific film with a great performance from Julianne Moore. Writer-director Todd Haynes has crafted a beautiful film made with sensitivity and with a sense of purpose. The story has so much to say about the nature of being human.
The Blu-ray release from Kino is just a minor upgrade, though. Unfortunately, the release features a dated transfer which doesn't impress. Fans might wish to upgrade but keep expectations in check.