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Title: By the Sea

Movie: :2.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :1.5stars:

HTS Overall Score:73

“By the Sea” is the third directorial effort from actress Angelina Jolie in the last 5 years. Her first attempts being the rather interesting film “In the Land of Blood and Honey”, and the slightly flawed, if not entertaining, war film “Unbreakable”. Not content with making standardized films, “By the Sea” is an effort to make a nuanced drama that simply wreaks of Terrence Malick. Sadly, however, instead of making a beautiful arthouse film Jolie mistakes blank stares and morose pouting as contemplation, and long drawn out regurgitations of the same thing over and over again as plot development. I was extremely intrigued by the first act, and really wondered how the film was going to play out, but soon realized after the first 30 minutes that we were going to see nothing but the same scene done over, and over, and over again, just with a different take.

Vanessa (Angelina Jolie) and Roland (Brad Pitt) are on a vacation of sorts to French coast, where they shack up in a quaint little village hotel where Roland and try his best to write the story that has plagued him for years. However, it’s almost blatantly obvious that not everything is right in the state of Denmark. While Vanessa and Roland seem to be an adorable couple at first glance, they are struggling with unnamed demons that haunt them throughout the film. The two “lovers” trade lightly barbed epithets of love and hatred intertwined together, and then go about their separate lives as if the other is a complete burden. Roland is frustrated and desires his wife, but is overcome with addiction to the bottle as well as the humiliating realization that this book he is trying to write just is not coming to fruition. Vanessa self-medicates with pills until she is nearly comatose and the two of them are truly a wretched pair as they stare morosely at each other and pout into the sunset.

The very OBVIOUS twist comes in the form of the young newlyweds across the wall from Vanessa and Roland. Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupaud) are everything the two of them used to be. Vivacious, fully of life, and desperately in love with each other. While Roland is getting drunk down in the hotel bar, Vanessa spends her days peering through the rusty pipe hole that separates the two rooms, craving every bit of attention that Francois is heaping upon his new bride. Soon Lea befriends the depressed Vanessa and the pair begin a strange sort of relationship that edges Vanessa closer and closer to the stupidly obvious end culmination that we saw coming from a mile away (or at least within the first 20 minutes).

I’m both entertained and bored spitless by Jolie’s third directing and writing attempt. On one hand the movie is incredibly dull and paced to the point where you realize that you could cut over an hour of the material out and THEN you’d be getting down to the actual meat and potatoes of the plot. On the other hand I’m fascinated by Jolie’s first attempt and creating an arthouse film. There are many similarities to the hypnotic and heady threads that run through many of Terrance Malick’s film, and much like Malick, she loses the average viewer by the first 30 minutes. Not to mention that her novice writing and directing abilities become ever so painfully clear when you realize that Brad Pitt is easily the best part of the movie. He gives the role of Roland his all and is you can tell he’s really trying to help his wife out, but there’s not much to work with. In fact there’s almost NOTHING to work with as Jolie mistakes staring morosely into the sunset and having flickers of dreamlike premonition flash across the viewers gaze like a strobe light as plot development. I wanted to find out what happened to the characters and what their motivations were, but for 100+ minutes of the film we get absolutely NO clue as to the events leading up to their boring week at the French Villa, and then suddenly they explain EVERYTHING in a matter of minutes and they all live happily ever after in a neat little bow. That juxtaposition and shifting of gears so quickly comes at a jarring pace and startles the viewer as they’re left wondering why that couldn’t have been eased into at a more leisurely pace.

I hate to give poor props to Jolie, as she’s shown promise over the years, but this seemed like a time where she just bit off more than she could chew, focusing on scenery and mournful staring rather than allowing the events to unfold and take place with some sort of structure to it. What she wanted was a beautiful and romantically twisted tale of loss and pain and disappointment in marriage, but what it comes across as is much more pedestrian. Hopefully here future shows some help from better writers as well as some guidance by a more experience hand in the directing world.


Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity, and language

Video :4.5stars:
Shot out on the Island of Gozo in Malta using the Arri Alexa camera system, “By the Sea” just exudes beauty and color. The very first opening scenes with Vanessa and Roland rolling up in their convertible is absolutely breathtaking, with resplendent colors that just pop off the screen and razor sharp clarity in the detail department. You can see every shave mark on Pitt’s rugged face, as well as each increasing line and wrinkle on the very obviously underweight Jolie (who has sadly been that way for the better part of 15 years). Color palette leans toward a mixture of cream and sand that looks absolutely divine once the couple are outside on the Gozo coastline. Blacks are deep and inky, with sharp detail even amidst the shadows of their dimly lit hotel room.

Audio :4stars:
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a bit more laid back and front heavy, as the film is nothing but a hauntingly beautiful score mixed with some intermittent dialog. Vocals are crisp and clear when utilized, but much of the film is spent listening to the ocean in the background or the melodic French score that pulses throughout the entire track. Car engines and rolling waves softly swish and roar in the background and even the simple sounds such as the bartender cleaning a glass or the scraping of a chair across the floor are replicated with simple elegance and ease. There is some LFE as a supporting element here and there, but mostly the bass tends to stay very low key and subdued throughout. Overall it’s a good track, but very simplistic by design and very laid back due to the arthouse feel.

Extras :1.5stars:

• Gena Rowlands: An Inspiration
• Making "By the Sea"
• Deleted Scenes

Overall: :3.5stars:

Fans of Jolie may be a bit disappointed with her latest work, as it deviated very sharply from her normal acting range and not in a good way. The extremely charismatic and regal actress looks worn out and tired, and combined with the lackluster directing and nonexistent story, leaves us feeling a bit gipped in the end. Pitt makes a valiant effort to support his wife in the lackluster film, and those who are curious to see the couple in something other than their standard fare will want to check it out, but otherwise I would just recommend a rental at the very best.

Additional Information:

Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Melanie Laurent
Directed by: Angelina Jolie-Pitt
Written by: Angelina Jolie-Pitt
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish DTS 5.1
Studio: Universal
Rated: R
Runtime: 122 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: July 5th, 2016

Buy By the Sea On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Rental at Best

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