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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Kevin Spacey
Annette Bening
Thora Birch
Mena Suvari.
Directors
Sam Mendes.
Screenwriters
Alan Ball.
Running Time
122 minutes

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American Beauty
Offbeat comedy drama about life in a Middle American 'burb.


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Plot
A middle-aged office drone finds himself besotted with his daughter's teenage friend and sets about reinvigorating his life.


Review
Released in America to a tumult of superlatives and Oscar chitchat, British director Sam Mendes' exceptional take on pre-millennial American ordinary people going nuts is simultaneously achingly funny and bitingly moving. It also presents he-who-can-do-no-wrong, Kevin Spacey, with the kind of richly-textured, grandstanding centrepiece that he just devours, rocking the screen with scintillating comic timing while instilling the film with an understated sadness that beautifully expresses its magical but troubled heart. It should be a career defining role, but for Spacey it's another in a canon of 'career bests'. Still, when you consider he is surrounded by brilliant turns from Annette Bening, Chris Cooper, Thora Birch and new boy Wes Bentley, you start to see how much more this is than just a sophisticate's soap opera.

Curiously furrowing similar turf to the more testosterone-heavy Fight Club, American Beauty is about male empowerment and self-discovery, with mid-life as coma where the only answer is a Zen-themed search for 'whatever makes you happy'. Both films share super-charged fire-me-if-you-dare sequences and quasi-profound diatribes against household goods. Where Beauty surpasses the Brad/Ed battery pack, however, is in its devotion to humanity and, ultimately, love as the prizes so frustratingly out of reach.

Spacey's human punchbag Lester Burnham finds rebirth after his daughter's jailbait buddy Angela (Suvari) zings his long-buried sexual antennae. Immediately he starts pumping iron, develops a range of taking-no-more-shit retorts and drops out of his dronehead job to flip burgers at the local drive-thru. Alongside his freefall are his wife Carole (Bening)'s more direct self-destruction and his estranged daughter Jane's (Birch) own sexual awakening.

Alan Ball's cynically-charged script plants this dysfunctional satire in a community so off-balance it is borderline David Lynch weirdo-Americana - the Burnhams' new neighbour, ex-military man Chris Cooper, heads a regimented household, which is a terrifyingly real depiction of an utterly inert family deadened by emotional tyranny.

Unusual for such people-focused comedy-drama is the vivid visual style. In among Burnham's sexual and human reawakening are dreamy visions of Suvari sumptuously smothered with nothing but scarlet rose petals. Mendes also paints his affluent Anywhereville with a worndown quality, all saturated colours and blank walls, throwing in outlandish angles to evoke the skewed normality of these fractured lives. Oddball teen neighbour Wes Bentley, clinically romantic about Burnham's daughter and chief preacher of the film's look-for-the-true-beauty philosophy, constantly Camcords the world around him, allowing Mendes to play cool games with shots within shots.

A contrived framing device forces the ending into whodunnit silliness it doesn't need, and caricatures float around the edges - Peter Gallagher's smarmbucket real estate king hastily shagging Bening's tormented wife is funny but depthless, although these are minor imperfections.


Verdict
An incisive, deliriously funny and profound vision of the American Dream hitting meltdown.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for American Beauty
Empire Star Rating

American Beauty Review

Flawlessly cast and brimming with dark, acid wit, American Beauty is a smart, provocative high point of late '90s mainstream Hollywood film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 15:57, 23 February 2012 | Report This Post


Forbidden Fruit Drama

Kevin Spacey has rarely been better than the performance on offer in this profoundly intriguing and undeniably disturbing vision of the American Dream. What begins as little more than a complex character study coupled with waning-marriage drama soon becomes a clever and engaging movie that often feels slow, but never dull. Story is smart, and the leads do great jobs. What more could you want? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 11:25, 09 March 2011 | Report This Post


good movie ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by snatch099 at 08:04, 13 September 2009 | Report This Post


good movie ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by snatch099 at 08:04, 13 September 2009 | Report This Post


a masterpiece

this film is awesome... kevin spacey plays his part to perfection and all the other actors are great aswell. this film is cleverly written and fully deserved to win best picture. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by snatch099 at 08:03, 13 September 2009 | Report This Post


Just incredible, its flows perfectly. It was nothing I expected, the blend of comedy, drama and dreamy realism is so well done. The performances are all superb (Spacey's performance is truely brilliant), and each character is stunningly real. A modern classic. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MovieAddict247 at 15:35, 06 June 2009 | Report This Post


THE BEST FILM OF THE MID TO LATE NINETIES

A FRIEND INSISTED I SEE THIS FILM AND WHEN I DID, I WAS COMPLETELY IN AWE. THE ACTING FROM KEVIN SPACEY, ANNETTE BENING AND CHRIS COOPER IS GREAT, THE SCREENPLAY IS DARKLY FUNNY AND THE CINEMATOGRAPHY IS ADMIRABLE. SAM MENDES IS A GREAT DIRECTOR. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by WiseGuy101 at 02:54, 05 February 2009 | Report This Post


... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SivlerArcade at 12:12, 01 February 2009 | Report This Post


Brilliant

just wanted to get my 5 stars in. Just bought the DVD after already having watched it several times and the brilliant performances of Spacey and more so Benning leaves me breathless wvery time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bronco3114 at 12:47, 31 October 2008 | Report This Post


American Genius

Any film that opens with the a main characters narration informing us of his untimely death, is definitely going to be interesting. From the opening scene the audience witness first hand the breakdown of the mdoern white picket fenced american family, and witness what happens on the inside. Like blue velvet before it and desperate housewives after it, this film never has a dull moment and is always waiting to give us a new twist to add to the already almost unfollowable plot. Lastly alot of p... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by texasjack at 18:22, 29 September 2008 | Report This Post


The film is almost flawless. It's view of suburbia is relatable and realistic yet somewhat twisted and eccentric. The script is often very funny and extremely quotable. The acting is good all round and the film manages to really change you're perception of the characters in the last third. The film also serves valuabe messages and themes about how materialism and cleanliness ultimately has destroyed the characters inwardley( particularly with Carolyn) and how emotionally stunted and banal life h... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ace Rothstein at 02:31, 13 September 2008 | Report This Post


I like Lester Burnham but, no matter how many times I watch this film, I can't work out if I should. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by muchobenny at 18:53, 11 August 2008 | Report This Post


The ending of this film makes you feel good about life ...in a f**ked up sort of way! Fantastic film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SkullKassidy at 12:17, 11 August 2008 | Report This Post


An AMERICAN BEAUTYful masterpiece.

Stunning. Well-made. And it's not fucking overrated. It's one of the most important movies of the last 50 years. Sam Mendes fucking rules! First-level film. Great Movie. Flawless. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 01:59, 08 August 2008 | Report This Post


OCCASIONALLY BRILLIANT BUT OVERRATED

this is a film that works wonderfully as a vicious black comedy and satirical jab at american suburbia, but it all gets too "deep" for its own good. it collapses into pure melodrama and soap-opera levels of silliness at the end, which is a shame because the 1st half is near perfect. the whole thing does get rather pretentious and what it ultimately lacks is heart which, for me, makes the end seem horribly jarring and forced, and really not that moving. had they dispelled with the boy-... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by charlesmoonshrub at 17:12, 24 March 2008 | Report This Post


I got this on DVD recently, as it is a film that I have seen a handfull of times but is so good. The performances from Spacey and Chris Cooper are career defining, and the film flows so smoothly despite ignoring the usual constrictions of a film ('start' 'middle' 'end') with one of the best soundtrack of the decade. Such an involving film, that makes you laugh, yet at the same time the film asks the audience to justify the actions of all the characters. Proof that there is hope for Holl... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ukedge87 at 18:44, 17 January 2008 | Report This Post


One of the greatest films of all time. The sheer attention to detail is phenomenal. kevin spacey is... phenomenal, the script is... phenomenal. The whole thing is justification for film existing. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr. Lowry at 15:39, 22 October 2007 | Report This Post


one of the best films ever ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 11:36, 22 October 2007 | Report This Post


one of the best films ever ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 11:36, 22 October 2007 | Report This Post


Marvelous!

The film, "American Beauty" is possibly the best film ever made! It includes the wonders of superb acting from its superior cast, stylish film techniques and it is directed by Sam Mended. When all of these characteristics are added together, a masterpiece is born and "Oscars" are won. As the story develops throughout the film, we begin to understand that life isn't what it seems to look like on the surface and that there are many more layers beneath the surface. "America... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Movie Mad at 20:05, 14 June 2007 | Report This Post


It definately deserved every oscar it was given but why did Hilary Swank win best actress over Annette Bening's superb performance ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willchadwick at 18:43, 24 March 2007 | Report This Post


THE BEST FILM EVER!

American Beauty is the best filmever and diserve all of its Oscars. It is beatifully acted by Kevin Spacey and all of the rest of the spectacular cast! The film includes some very funny moments et it is almost one of the most moving films I have seen in my lifetime. I would advise everybody to watch this film within your lifetime because if you didn't, you would be missing out on the beautiful wonders of American Beauty! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Movie Mad at 20:43, 15 February 2007 | Report This Post


The most beautiful film I have ever seen

Look Closer..... It's been 7 years since Hollywood treated us to Sam Mendes's film directing debut and no film I have seen since then can compare to the masterpiece known as 'American Beauty'. This film is the most beautiful film I have ever seen. Kevin Spacey is absolutely perfectly cast as our troubled protaganist Lester Burnham living the American dream in middle class America suburbia, who on becoming infatuated by his daughter Jane's friend Angela, decides to reinvent his life. The film is... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by greenkitty at 16:33, 07 February 2007 | Report This Post


American Beauty

An absoloute classic that has to be seen by everyone. Bizziare, funny and generally distubing at times. This is a modern day classic. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by solid snake at 21:46, 18 December 2006 | Report This Post


brilliant film ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by casino at 18:09, 12 July 2006 | Report This Post


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