15 October 2011 | StevePulaski
Beautiful, no, a step in the right direction, yes
The first forty-five minutes of Beautiful Boy, I must admit, were minutes that included strong acting and harsh realism. The whole plot of the film is hard to really grab a hold of and decipher it, since really, it is a story that is just so hard to comprehend. But one too many things go wrong with this film that are results of maybe the film's own personal setbacks, and the screenplay's too.
Bill (Sheen) and Kate (Bello) are a middle-class couple with a son in his Freshman year of College. The son is Sam Carroll, played by Kyle Gallner who, if you recall, was in Kevin Smith's most recent work Red State as the horny teenager who fell pray to a radical, religious cult. Sam is troubled, ignored, and underestimated. Bill and Kate are shocked and in denial when they get the news the next day that their son walked into his morning class, with a handgun, and opened fire on his teacher and classmates.
Now is the part we rarely think about when it comes to tragedies like school shootings - the aftermath for the shooter's parents. Their whole life has just went from mediocre to worse in a matter of a second. They are unfairly blamed, stamped with the seal of "bad parents," and are now trying to save their already dying marriage by holding onto the only one who knows their pain.
It's heartbreaking to think about both of the affected sides in an incident like this. Not only have many lost their life, but the ones who were the parents of the killed now have to go on and struggle to find their ability to cope with the sudden change. It's hard on everyone.
Michael Sheen and Maria Bello create pretty well acted chemistry, but ultimately, the film is its own worst enemy. Beautiful Boy was shot was a 16mm camcorder meaning that the picture quality isn't stellar compared to what is the norm now. That doesn't bring the film down as much as it is how the film works with its low budget. The color scheme is nothing but bleak - gray and black only hit the screen, which might be parallel to the subject matter I'm not sure. But it just seems like it wasn't meant to be this way.
The directing by Shawn Ku doesn't do too much justice either. During some of the intense and believable fight scenes between Sheen and Bello, they are usually victim to "swift pans" which is where a shot, instead of cutting to the other person talking it just spins right over to that person. It's sloppy, and is extremely distracting from what the film is trying to show.
The screen writing saves the film majorly here, yet it lacks one fatal flaw - it's emotionless. We feel sad and a little gloomy, sure, but just thinking about the premise might have made people shed a few tears. The film is free from waterworks, and this is coming from a guy who cries during My Girl, Stand By Me, and Toy Story 3.
It might seem like I'm being way too critical, but once you get past those minor setbacks, Beautiful Boy truly is a pretty good film. It explores a field rarely shown and thought about. We don't really think about the parents of the murderer, or how they are affected.
One sub-plot I wish the film would've explored was maybe having one of the neighbor's kids being killed and then the aftermath of between the couple of the killer and the couple of the victim. Imagine the victim's couple was close friends with the shooter's, and then think about how much of a war would've went on with the neighbors. I feel that that would've made a great little addition to a film already very limited.
Beautiful Boy is a good first effort for a plot like this, and hopefully, more films will explore this topic with a heftier budget and further pursuing of the story would occur. There is a film coming out pretty soon called We Need to Talk About Kevin, and from reading the plot and details of it, it seems Beautiful Boy wanted to be something just like that. It will most likely suffer by comparison when that comes out, when really, its setbacks are some that you just can't really overcome.
Starring: Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, and Kyle Gallner. Directed by: Shawn Ku.