I AM SAM
Reviewed July 25th, 2002 by Dan Jones
I Am Sam was one of those movies that I went in a bit uneasy about. I remember seeing the trailer in theaters quite a long time ago and my initial reaction was that it would be a quality film, yet as time went on from that point I worried that it would be overly clichť and politically correct... the result is kind of a mixed bag.
I Am Sam is an overall good film, but it has its problems. There are some great performances, namely by Sean Penn as the mentally handicapped Sam (yet I think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man has him beat) and Dakota Fanning as Lucy Diamond Dawson. I have to say that Fanning steals the show throughout the film with just incredibly believable acting... truly someone to watch as she gets older (sheís only eight for godís sake). Most movies skimp on child actors/actresses (*cough* Star Wars Episode 1 *cough*), but not I Am Sam; kudos to the casting job.
The story is fairly simple. Starting it off we have Sam working at a Starbucks (lots of product placement by them...); then after being told ďitís timeĒ, he runs to a hospital where we see a woman giving birth to Samís baby girl; after the birth the mother doesnít seem to hold the girl (foreshadowing). A minute later, they are outside waiting for a bus, Sam with their new baby Lucy. The bus arrives and the woman runs away leaving Sam to deal with Lucy.
So, we have a man with a capacity of a seven year old trying to bring up a baby girl. Time passes and Lucy has grown up quite a bit. Lucy seems very accepting of her fatherís differences but soon seems to surpass her fatherís intelligence, somewhat unwillingly. Soon protective surfaces get involved after many voice complaints on Lucyís best interest. Sam now has to fight to get his daughter back. Enter Michelle Pfeiffer as Rita Harrison; Sam and his friendís choice for a lawyer.
I Am Samís main idea is the great ideology of ďAll you need is love.Ē Yet, the film ultimately does not seem to convince the viewer of this. The film seems to know where it wants to go, yet at the end realizes that what it has painted is a heavily blurred view of what is best for the characters involved, namely Lucy. Would Lucy be better off with her new foster parents or with the father she so dearly loves? Would she be better off with a mix of two? I Am Sam doesnít really seem to decide in my opinion.
Newline has given I Am Sam a very nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video transfer. This is near flawless transfer with excellent flesh tones, great detail and color saturation, deep and rich blacks and little to no edge enhancement or digital compression problems to speak of. Great transfer.
For a heavily dialogue based film, I Am Sam has received strong 5.1 mixes in both Dolby Digital and DTS. Both mixes have good enveloping elements as well as great use of the filmís impressive soundtrack (all Beatles covers, some better then others). I found the DTS track to have slightly better clarity and detail, but both will satisfy. The mixes are somewhat front heavy, but have nice surrounding cues here and there; much better then I anticipated. Also included is a 2.0 surround track for those who need it.
Extras wise, I Am Samís director, Jessie Nelson, provides a pretty good audio commentary. She seems to really care about the film, yet the track ends up being somewhat dry overall and really only worth a listen if you really, really loved the film or the filmís style.
Next, we have seven deleted scenes fully equipped with optional commentary by Nelson and presented in anamorphic widescreen. These are better then your normal deleted scenes, actually giving some more insight into the characters. Worth a watch, and its nice to have commentary on to why they did not make the cut.
Becoming Sam is probably the best feature on the disc; clocking in at over 40 minutes this documentary provides quite a bit of information into the filming process as well as having interviews with a lot of the cast including Penn and Pfeiffer. Very informative documentary and worth the watch.
Finishing the extras, we have the filmís theatrical trailer, production notes and filmographies.
Ultimately, I Am Sam is a nice feel good film. Itís definitely a family orientated film with just about nothing questionable to speak of. The acting from Penn and Fanning is top notch; while Pfeiffer puts in a pretty decent job herself. Newline has given I Am Sam quite a nice DVD release and if you have seen and liked the movie in theaters, it is worth a purchase. If you were a big fan of Penn, I would recommend a buy as well. Good film with some flaws, so Iíll say itís worth a rental.
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