Sam Dawson (Sean Penn) is intellectually handicapped, having the mental capacity of a seven year old. His life revolves around his job serving coffee at Starbucks and spending time with his friends, a collection of handicapped men of varying degrees. He also has a passion for The Beatles and along with knowing all their songs has an incredible knowledge of everything about them. His world is thrown into turmoil when he gets a woman pregnant and after the birth of their daughter she vanishes, leaving Sam holding the baby so to speak. The only form of support he gets raising the baby is from his neighbour Annie (Dianne Wiest), a reclusive woman who is one of the few people to treat Sam as a normal person. The love between father and child is immense and everything is going well until his daughter Lucy, named after Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds reaches her seventh birthday. The authorities now question Sam’s ability to raise a child with a higher intelligence than his own.
Sam will do anything to keep Lucy and must enlist the services of a lawyer. He happens upon high powered, self-absorbed lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), who takes on the case simply to avoid embarrassment from her colleagues. The court now have to decide whether the obvious love between father and daughter is enough to ensure the best possible future for the girl, or whether Lucy should be taken away and placed permanently in foster care with her temporary foster parents.
|"I wouldn’t want any daddy but you"|
Sean Penn is simply brilliant in his role as Sam and fully deserved his Oscar nomination for this role. Michelle Pfeiffer is also perfectly suited in her role as the lawyer and gives a convincing performance. The whole cast is in fact superb and it is a delight to see a couple of actual handicapped actors in roles, adding to the premise that they should be treated the same as everyone else and be given the same opportunities. Dakota Fanning as Lucy is a natural, showing maturity far beyond her years.
Another highlight of the film is the cinematography and editing. Scenes are quite often shot in a way to show the world as Sam would see it and not in the standard Hollywood style. The editing is also used for this means and truly adds to the viewing experience. The visual effect is supported by the outstanding soundtrack, which is made up solely of Beatles cover versions performed by artists such as Eddie Vedder, Heather Nova, The Black Crowes, Ben Harper and Nick Cave. These songs all suit their scenes perfectly and emphasise the lead character's love of the Beatles.
Many will be deterred from watching this film and dismiss it as a “chick flick” or a “tearjerker” but they shouldn't be. Although it does have many poignant scenes that will have you reaching for the tissue box, it offers so much more. Apart from the main theme of love conquering all, there are many other issues to make the viewer think. The way we treat others is an important issue and this film demonstrates the better side of the human spirit.
This is an extremely well made film with an interesting story and superb acting. The cinematography and music are also highlights and despite a running time of over two hours, it simply flies by. If for no other reason, you should at least see this for the performance of Sean Penn.
There is little to find fault with in this superb transfer. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and 16x9 enhanced for those with widescreen capability, picture is sharp throughout with excellent detail. Colours are natural and true and used well to set moods for each scene. Blacks are true and there are no film artefacts to interfere with the viewing pleasure. No aliasing was spotted and the only minor blemish is the very slightest of grain in a couple of scenes, but these caused no problems whatsoever. There is a layer change at 90:20 which is thoughtfully placed between scenes to cause no intrusion. Subtitles are supplied in English for the Hearing Impaired and are very true to what transpires on screen. Overall this is a superb transfer.
Audio supplied is a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0, DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1, all in English only. Although the DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1 offer terrific use of directional effect and music ambience, this dialogue driven film would be just as enjoyable for those that only have stereo capability. For those with surround capability however, the DTS is the track of choice as this is slightly better than the also excellent DD 5.1. As the majority of the film comes from the front speakers, the subtle use of the rears achieves a wonderful sound overall. There really is little to find fault with in this transfer and it would almost be reference quality if it challenged the audio equipment more. At the beginning of the film I did find it difficult to understand some of the dialogue, but this is not due to the quality of transfer, this is due to getting familiar with the characters' dialogue, so I would suggest switching the subtitles on until no longer needed. Overall, like the video, this is a superb transfer.
As stated earlier, if for no other reason, you should see this film for the wonderful acting. Sean Penn is one of the best actors going around at the moment and fulfils the potential he showed in At Close Range so many years earlier. The video and audio transfers are terrific and the extras are also of excellent quality. Those that saw and loved this during its cinema release should rush out and buy it now, for those that have never seen the film, it is definitely worth a rental at least.