Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Kevin Feige:
My Movie Life

The Marvel supremo's pick of the flicks
4Music's Size Does Matter
Introducing your new favourite app
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

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
Ida
4 Star Empire Rating
Night Will Fall
4 Star Empire Rating
Grand Piano
3 Star Empire Rating
20,000 Days On Earth
4 Star Empire Rating
Manuscripts Don't Burn
3 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, The
5 Star Empire Rating
Two Days, One Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Some Like It Hot
5 Star Empire Rating
A Hard Day's Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Boyhood
5 Star Empire Rating

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


submit to reddit


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

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for American Beauty
Empire Star Rating

It's a a superb modern tale of American suburbia, riveting performances from Spacey and Benning complement one another brilliantly, adding a significant twist of poignancy on a film that never takes itself too seriously. A modern classic. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mufcgeorge7 at 16:17, 10 April 2006 | Report This Post


An absolutely classic, timeless piece of art. I don't know about anyone else, but American Beauty is, for me at least, an exact interpretation of life. There's no need for me to go on about it anymore - just watch it, for crying out loud! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by azi_453 at 22:21, 01 January 2006 | Report This Post


Previous page

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Future Of Film: There Will Be Another Indie Golden Age
Independent producers are growing from micro-budgets to something a lot bigger

Empire's Epic Interstellar Subscribers' Cover
The countdown begins to Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece

The Future Of Film: Your Favourite Movie WIll Be Crowdfunded
Click here to donate

The Empire Podcast #128: Interviews With Sir Roger Moore And George MacKay
Plus we say goodbye to Richard Kiel and the British Expendables are assembled...

Shut Up, World! Gary Busey Is Talking!
Strap yourselves in and meet a true Hollywood original.

Classic Feature: Gods Among Us - Paul Newman
A cat so cool he makes Steve McQueen look geeky.

The Boxtrolls Interviews: The Cast And Crew On Laika's Latest
Sir Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning and more talk stop-motion

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)