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The Glass Castle (2017)

Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/7/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/6/2017

The past decade has seen a rash of science-fiction films which feature dystopias that are apparently influenced by the Orwellian world of 1984, where personal choice and freedom has become a thing of the past and the government decides what is right for everyone. Despite the fact that most people would claim to fear this kind of world, there is no doubt that some semblance of order and homogeny does help the world maintain a sense of balance. What if you decided that didn't need to live by the rules of society? Would that be OK? And what if you decided to take your children on this journey with you, taking them away from a childhood which most would define as normal? Would that be fair? These are just some of the questions raised by The Glass Castle.

The Glass Castle tells the true story of Jeannette Walls (played as an adult by Brie Larson). Jeanette was born in 1960 to Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), two adults who clearly weren't interested in having a "normal" life. Rose May was an artist who spent most of her days in front of the canvas. Rex was a dreamer and an alcoholic, who had little interest in having a steady job. The two moved Jeanette and her four siblings around the country (literally in the back of a moving van at times), constantly on the run from the law and debt collectors. The family finally settled in the mountains of West Virginia, where Rex was originally from, taking over an abandoned house. Rex constantly spoke of building a house made entirely of windows on the property (hence the title), and promised his children that this would come true. However, Jeanette dreamed of being a journalist and made a plan to escape this bizarre existence and make a life for herself.

Not unlike the recent Atomic Blonde, The Glass Castle utilizes my least favorite storytelling technique by presenting the plot mostly as a flashback. The film opens with grown-up Jeannette in New York City, where an event forces her to reflect on her childhood. Thus, we see Ella Anderson playing Jeannette for a good portion of the film, as watch the Walls family struggle to survive. As this is a true story, I guess that the filmmakers decided that this approach was acceptable, as some viewers would know that Jeannette survives her childhood. But, in this case, surviving and coming out OK are two different things, and by showing a well-dressed and eloquent Jeannette in the opening, the movie is robbed of some of its tension.

Just as some jokes are funny because they are true, The Glass Castle is sad because the events portrayed actually happened. Getting back to our opening question, did Rex and Rose Mary have the right to do what they did? If they wanted to be hippies and live off of the grid on their own, that's one thing, but to drag four children into the mix is something else entirely. So, obviously, it's the children's stories which makes The Glass Castle compelling. The parents are clearly dealing with some mental-health and substance abuse issues (which are sort of explored, but not enough), and the kids are often left to fend for themselves. While the story is true, the child abuse (and there's no other word for it) which we witness makes The Glass Castle difficult to watch at times, as we can't help but wonder why anyone would subject to their children to this, even if they did think that it was for their own good. Of course, showing things in this light, should make the notion that Jeannette was able to be successful even more powerful, but the finale wrecks things with a "blood is thicker than water" twist which may be based on fact, but feels very unsatisfying for the viewer.

Despite some shortcomings, The Glass Castle is still a fascinating portrayal of parenting gone horribly wrong. The story, which, again, is true, is very similar to the one seen in Captain Fantastic, and one can't help but wonder if that film wasn't inspired by Jeannette's memoir. The acting here is very good, as everyone is unafraid to throw themselves into their roles. Harrelson shows a dark side which we don't often see and Watts again shows that glamour isn't the first thing on her agenda. On a grand scale, Larson isn't in the film that much, but she does shine in a few emotional scenes. Movies based on true stories can often be difficult to judge, and The Glass Castle is a great example of this. It does a good job of depicting what life was like for the Walls' family and despite the fact that we won't like it, the ending does show the strength of family. I just wish that a different approach had been taken with presenting the material, so that a greater sense of suspense could have permeated the film.

The Glass Castle made me feel like a great dad on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail works well, and the depth places the actors away from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This seems like an odd movie to get a 7.1 track, as there aren't a lot of "big sound" scenes here. We do get some incremental surround sound and stereo effects, which, at times, deliver individual sounds. There are very few subwoofer effects here.

The Glass Castle Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. "The Glass Castle: Memoir to Movie" (26 movies) focuses on how Walls' real-life story was transformed into a film. Through interviews with Walls, Larson, Director Destin Daniel Cretton, and other cast members, the piece explores the care which went into translating Walls complex life-story. "A Conversation with Jeannette Walls" (15 minutes) continues this angle, as Walls gets more in-depth into what it was like seeing her life made into a movie. "Making of 'Summer Storm' by Joel P. West" (3 minutes) allows the songwriter to talk about what it was like to adapt a poem by Walls' father. "Scoring The Glass Castle" (4 minutes) brings us more of West, this time talking about the overall soundtrack. The Disc contains nine DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. These are all brief moments, with only one, which shows Walls in school, feeling new.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long