By the by
Riding entirely on the mere presence of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, By the Sea is an unnecessarily lethargic look at tragedy and loss.Confusing contemplation with constipation, this drawn-out look at a marriage on the rocks thinks it is cleverer than its audience, hoping its ultimate revelations would justify the endurance challenge of getting through the rest of the film. It’s not though, and Jolie’s writer/directorial capabilities are more to blame than the performances of the Pitts themselves, whose star power is all that hooks you, and all that keeps you waiting for a satisfying twist that would retro-fit these characters with some deeper quality that makes their behaviour and interactions more resonant. It’s not that the twist lacks meaning, it just lacks effect, trite in the sea of tales that have covered this territory before.Perhaps the languid French setting is designed to give the film further flavour, sitting by the sea with Pitt and Jolie’s fraught couple wrestling with unspoken demons – him buried in a bottle for most of the day working on the book he can’t seem to start, while she self-medicates herself into oblivion – but the setting also feels like a bit of an excuse for nothing to happen. Jolie doesn’t even really take in the view, instead attempting some jarring near-subliminal flash images clumsily designed to portend the ultimate twist. Pitt’s the strongest presence here, with dedicated commitment to his wife’s work, but it’s all for naught, as neither of them can rescue the film from its inert state.
Picture QualityBy the Sea reaches UK shores on a Region Free Blu-ray which promotes the movie in largely impressive condition.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen, does a solid job of lapping up the location – what little of it is shown – and retains striking detail both in the close-ups and broader shots. Clarity is impressive, with the period dated near-sepia tint failing to rob the image of an ounce of its integrity, and the gorgeous locale at least splaying the shots with a natural light that is rich and warm. Black levels are strong, and, with no overt digital defects or image problems, this is a solid video presentation – not exactly reference quality or demo worthy, but hard to fault nonetheless.
Sound QualityBy the Sea's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a strong, serviceable, albeit not spectacular accompaniment.
Dialogue is promoted clearly and coherently across the fronts and central channels, disseminated with prioritisation across the remaining elements, whilst effects retain presence but remain largely in the background, bringing forth the rolling waves or humming car engines; the bustling bars or clacking typewriter add a few punchy moments in what is a far more atmospherically-orientated affair. The accompanying score suits the melancholy material, but does nothing for the languid pace, nevertheless giving the surrounds some further material to work with. Although there's little here for the LFE channel to do, it's nonetheless a solid affair that provides a warm accompaniment to the proceedings.
ExtrasA couple of brief Featurettes - Gena Rowlands: An Inspiration and Making By the Sea offer a little background into the production, whilst 12 minutes of largely unnecessary Deleted Scenes couldn't have saved this piece.
Blu-ray VerdictBy the Sea rides entirely on the shoulders of the Pitts, but even they can't keep it afloat.
At least decent video and audio will impress fans who do decide to pick this up, although really it's a rental at best to test the waters and see if it draws you in.
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