This movie opens with the discovery of the body of Violet Kellty a reclusive woman that lives several miles from the small town of Robbinsville. The local doctor, Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson) and sheriff, Todd Peterson (Nick Searcy) drive out to the Kellty property to inspect and recover the body. While in the cabin the two men discover Nell (Jodie Foster) a young woman who has never known anyone but her mother and has lived in isolation her entire life. Their initial impressions of Nell are of a wild woman who speaks gibberish and whose alarming behaviour can only be caused by a mental problem.
As the only person even remotely qualified to work with Nell, Jerry is given the task of determining what should be done with her. The reluctant Jerry quickly realizes that he cannot help her and so approaches Dr Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson) a psychologist at the Charlotte University Medical Centre. She is intrigued by Jerry's notes and agrees to visit Nell and take over her case. Paula is quick to see Nell as a victim of neglect, a woman who is most likely retarded and certainly mentally disturbed. She and her head of department, Dr Alexander Paley (Richard Libertini) decide that the best thing for Nell is admission to the medical centre where she can be studied and gradually introduced into normal society. Jerry is not so sure. He has watched Nell and sees that she can survive in her isolated world, he is now wondering if the best thing for Nell is for her to be left where she is.
The Charlotte Medical Centre gets a court order for custody of Nell while Jerry in turn gets a court order preventing Nell from being taken. The matter ends up in front of a judge who rules that Nell should be observed for a period of three months to determine her competence. Jerry and Paula
both ensure that they are assigned to the case and begin the process of watching and evaluating Nell.
The two have totally different attitudes and approaches. Paula is clinical and cold, observing Nell using video cameras and recording equipment while Jerry moves in Nells world and tries to communicate with her directly. Both begin to realize that Nell is not retarded but is instead a free spirit, a woman that has grown up free from the influences of modern society, innocent and uninhibited. Both agree that she is not ready for modern society and that they must learn how to communicate with her so that she can be gradually introduced to it and protected from the intense scrutiny that her case will attract.
As a film Nell has a fairly conventional structure, giving us something to dislike and characters to relate to in typical Hollywood fashion. Nevertheless the sheer class of this production and the strong performances from Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and to a lesser extent Natasha
Richardson make this a lovely film to watch.
This transfer has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is NOT 16x9 enhanced. Ok I'm getting the BBM (Big Black Mark) stamp out and wham, down she comes on this transfer. While I'm really happy that this wonderful movie has been released on DVD the fact that this transfer is not 16x9 enhanced is a major crime. The beautiful cinematography from Dante Spinotti (L.A Confidential, Heat, The Last Of The Mohicans) and the delicate direction of Michael Apted (Gorky Park, Gorillas In The Mist, Blink) have been reduced by this low resolution, aliasing ravaged transfer that is hamstrung by a measly bit rate of around 4 megabits. Aliasing is in just about every scene and almost ruins many of them but luckily the strength of the story kept me watching. Just for the sake of completeness I'll also mention that I noticed some minor film artefacts and some obvious moiré effects in a few scenes.
Now that I've got that off my chest I can tell you about the better points of this transfer such as the lovely, natural colour palette, nice solid blacks and fine shadow detail. I should also say that the detail levels and sharpness of this transfer are superior to VHS video and that overall this is an adequate effort that will look better on smaller screens. Call this one a lost opportunity.
As this is mainly a dialogue driven film, having only a Dolby Digital 2.0 track is not much of a problem. The soundstage is quite front centric, as you would expect, but the touching score does have a lovely full sound to it thanks to support from both the surrounds and the subwoofer. The surrounds also get some work carrying ambient sounds although this isn't always as effective as it could be. The voices of the actors come through cleanly and those actors speaking English are easy to understand. I'm sure that anyone familiar with "Nellish" would find Jodie Fosters dialogue easy to understand as well!
A great film featuring a wonderful performance from Jodie Foster. Despite the video transfers best efforts, this classy production will bring a lump to your throat, it did to mine! If you can find a copy to rent do so, you can then decide if it is good enough to go into your collection.