Saturday, December 8, 2007

KRAMER VS KRAMER: Blu-ray (Columbia 1979) Sony Home Entertainment

Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is a high strung ad executive who returns home from work one evening to discover that his harried wife, Joanna (Meryl Streep) is abandoning him and their young son, Billy (Justin Henry). In shock and angry, Ted vows to make the best of his new situation. Only, being a full time parent isn’t an easy job.

At first Billy resents everything Ted does. To ease the stress, Ted brings home a date, Phyllis Bernard (JoBeth Williams) who inadvertently winds up naked in the bathroom with Billy the next morning. Oh well, Billy’s fairly mature and he proves it, by politely introducing himself and then exiting the room.

If Ted's life on the home front seems strained, it's positively crumbling at work. After Ted repeatedly puts his son ahead of his career, his boss Jim O'Connor (George Coe) quietly fires him with the 'best intentions' that Ted will get his act together. In point of fact, Ted's pretty good at rebounding. He corners a new employer into hiring him just before the Christmas holidays and begins to bridge the gap between him and Billy, with the guidance of mutual family friend and single parent, Margaret Phelps (Jane Alexander). 

The wounds from Joanna's abandonment have begun to heal when Joanna reappears in both Ted and Billy's life. It seems she's started her life over and now wants Billy to come and live with her. Ted's bitterness toward Joanna is too strong to give in. He petitions the court for custody and Joanna fights back - neither particularly interested in the best interests of their least, not at first.

To be certain, films before Robert Benton’s Kramer Vs Kramer (1979) had glossed over divorce. Based on Avery Corman's novel, Benton's screenplay is a critical, often frank, deconstruction of the fallout that follows a breakup. There's an honesty and an integrity to the writing that is seamlessly married to stellar performances by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep.

Joanna is not an unfit mother. She isn’t evil either. She’s just at the end of her rope. Ted is not a bad father. He’s just inexperienced. What the film so masterfully represented is that struggle between separated parents to preserve some semblance of order and sanctity for the love they continue to share for their child.

Kramer Vs. Kramer is not a feel good movie, though it has elements of optimism. From Ted’s frequent consultations with Margaret to the penultimate moment in the film where both Ted and Joanna realize they may have reached an impasse in their own relationship but not in the life that is shared between them, Kramer Vs Kramer is a quiet wake-up call for divorced couples with children, made from the perspective of a divorced couple who have just realized their own mistakes, but are making concerted efforts not to repeat them.

Kramer Vs. Kramer was an odd choice to receive a 1080p upgrade from Sony as part of their all out launch of the hi-def format. Not because the film isn't deserving. But visually, there are few opportunities to really show off. Kramer Vs. Kramer is a low budget, intimate family drama. That Sony placed it ahead of other films in its canon like The Guns of Navarone, Annie, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All name a curious indeed. But why quibble when the results are this good. We get a hi-def transfer that yields eye-popping colors, accurate flesh tones, solid contrast and fine detail throughout. Film grain is accurately reproduced for a stunning visual quality. The audio is 5.1 DTS. Again, Kramer Vs. Kramer is primarily a dialogue driven movie so don't expect a workout of your speakers.  Extras are limited to an audio commentary and all too brief featurette. Bottom line: recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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