Vera Drake DVD: Review By Evan "Mushy" Jacobs

  • OVERALL
    4.5
    SUPERB
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE FEATURE
Vera Drake is the story of a woman who does something that other's deem is bad and is subsequently punished for it. This movie looks at a good woman, who helps everyone she can, who also happens to help women get rid of unwanted pregnancies. The film is structured in a very weird way in that it isn't a typical 3 act film. It is basically all built up to the character's downfall. It is all done very well, the acting from everyone is superb, I guess my only complaint is that this film only gives a cursory glimpse into how the lives of Vera's family is affected by her actions. I don't want to give too much away here, I just think that the movie was a little uneven in parts. Mainly, I would like to have seen more of how her family was affected by her going to prison and even more to the point, I would like to have seen how Vera was affected by prison life. This is really my only complaint about an otherwise perfect film.

Imelda Staunton, the woman who plays Vera Drake gives such a powerful performance, I was stunned. She is so good. So rich. So perfect in this role, you don't even think she is acting. Why are the British such good thespians? I have never understood this, but I have heard that it has a lot to do with their actors having such a rich theater tradition. In the US it seems that an extensive theater background hinders some actors. I guess this has something to do with how things have to be "bigger" in the theater, as opposed to how they have to be in front of a camera lens. Either way, to just say Imelda Staunton is good, does this movie a large disservice. I say this because everyone in the movie is great. There was no character who seemed out of place or didn't seem perfectly cast within their role.

Mike Leigh is truly a master film director. He makes small, personal films big and rich. I know that his style is that he "doesn't use a script", but I think that this is misleading. The characterizations and plots grow out of a very intense rehearsal period. They don't just turn the camera's on and great things happen. As this is a period piece taking place in different seasons of the year, sets have to be built, FX have to be created, etc. . Having worked background on some movies, it seems that all we do is have the actors read at a round table discussion and then they rehearse on the set while they are shooting. Why do you think making a movie is so expensive? When the actors are rehearsing, everyone sitting around is on the clock waiting to work. Mike Leigh's movies don't seem like they have to go through this process. Since it seems like a true collaboration that he has shaped, those the performances don't seem canned but very fresh.

Vera Drake is a very powerful and profound film. I am very happy to have screened it.
THE EXTRAS
No extras on this disk. I would have liked to have seen a doc*mentary about Mike Leigh's process. If this hasn't been doc*mented it should be. We hear so much talk about how he works, that I think Vera Drake would have been a perfect case study for this. In fact, you hear so many stories about how movies are made, the budgets, the scripts ... that my new line when people are talking about the amazing stories behind the making of certain films is that not only did they not have any money and no script ... they also didn't have any film!!
THE VIDEO
Presented in a format preserving the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of it's theatrical exhibition. Enhanced for widescreen TV's. This movie is a very talky, character piece. It didn't need a ton of great angles, slow mo shots or any of those other camera tricks and I am happy to say that there are none present here. This movie just flows. The camera set ups are simple and the movie looks very sharp. The transfer and compression are so clear that I even watched some parts with the subtitles on just to see how they looked on the screen. This is one of those movies that works in such a way that you don't know that it's working on you. It just happens and you take in the situations as they come. You deal with things as the characters deal with them, all the while never noticing how the look of the film is playing into this. Yet, when it is over you start to understand how everything worked together to give you this impression and feeling.
THE AUDIO
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. English Stereo Surround Sound. I only used the English subtitles because they automatically come on with my DVD player and I just left them on. Some people find the accents in Mike Leigh's films hard to understand, but I rarely even looked at the subtitles save for a few moments when I was trying to judge how sharp they were. Sound in a performance piece like this is really important because in order to "get" the performance, you need to be able to hear it. I found the enunciation, inflection and overall delivery to be very crisp and audible. The light touches of music used within the movie also helped to really enhance the feeling of the piece. Although, I have to say, the moments where nothing was said, where the characters are just thinking about the allegations and the way their lives are going to change, are probably the strongest moments of all.
THE PACKAGE
Imelda Staunton is in the lower left-hand corner of the DVD box. It is a very simple picture of her with a look that borders between fear and happiness. As usual, some awards are listed and there are couple of quotes from nationally read magazines. The back features more pictures from the movie, with the majority of them centering around the moment when the truth about what Vera has done comes to light. I don't think the packaging for this movie needs a lot of bells and whistles. It is a simple story and simple packaging completely gets that point across. The images are also strong and that in and of itself helps the look of this packaging, as it gives the impression that this movie is one of greater depth and weight. Thankfully, the packaging doesn't lie because Vera Drake is all those things and more.
THE FINAL WORD
Vera Drake , while flawed in my opinion, is one of the best movies I have ever seen. When the police show up at her door and you see that her life and lives of the people around her are going to be irrevocably changed, there aren't really any words that can be ascribed to the weightiness of this scene and the scene's that follow. The wind just gets knocked right out of you. Even though as a viewer you know that this day of reckoning will come, it is still a tough shot to take.

I know that this movie is dealing with a "hot button" issue like abortion, but it doesn't let politics or those kind of ideas muddle the story. This is really a tale of people. How we all live together and effect one another even if we don't realize that we are doing this. It also examines the family, our relationships with one another and especially our relationships to our in-laws. One could see how there were many other possibilities(with the characters) Leigh and Co. could have examined in this piece, and I think that it is interesting that they spent so much time building up the central part of the narrative.

I recommend Vera Drake to anyone who is interested in seeing a movie that is well done, done a little bit differently.

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