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105 of 118 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This review is based on the theatrical release
I was fortunate enough to see this film recently at the West End Cinema in DC. Having read some of the mixed reviews, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I found myself pleasantly taken with the movie. Yes, there are one or two digressions that could have been better integrated with the story (or, possibly, cut). Yes, the climactic scene could've stood some tweaks. And...
Published on May 4, 2012 by Kevin D

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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars FORMATS :: Read this before you buy
Be aware that while this set does contain both versions of the film, it includes them IN ONLY ONE FORMAT EACH. The theatrical release is here ONLY in Blu-ray, and the extended version is here ONLY as a DVD. If like me you don't have Blu-ray, you won't be able to watch the theatrical release. And if on the other hand you wanted to watch the highly-regarded extended version...
Published 24 months ago by Vajra


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105 of 118 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This review is based on the theatrical release, May 4, 2012
By 
Kevin D (Albany, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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I was fortunate enough to see this film recently at the West End Cinema in DC. Having read some of the mixed reviews, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I found myself pleasantly taken with the movie. Yes, there are one or two digressions that could have been better integrated with the story (or, possibly, cut). Yes, the climactic scene could've stood some tweaks. And yes, between this and You Can Count on Me, I do prefer the latter. But this was still one of the best films I've seen in years! It is a mature work, and honest, and considered. The emotions and psychologies of the characters feel real and authentic. If you're looking for a light, generic popcorn movie, this film is not for you. But if you appreciate true to life drama with weightier themes that will challenge your preconceptions and stimulate your higher cognitive functions, Margaret is definitely worth watching.

An early scene, of the story's tragic inciting incident, was so brutal, so powerful, and so upsetting that I almost had to leave the theater. The main character's involvement in this scene means that she is forever changed, and it's to be expected that she will begin to "act out" as she struggles to recalibrate her life in tragedy's wake. You might not like, or agree with, everything she does, but she is fascinating to watch. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone sums it up best: "Margaret, for all its flaws, is a film of rare beauty and shocking gravity."

As a product note, the disc release includes both the theatrical version (on Blu-ray) and an extended cut (on DVD). From what I've read, it sounded like the director was pressured to cut the film down to less than 2 and a half hours for the theatrical release, so it will be particularly interesting to watch the extended version. Perhaps some of the film's loose threads will prove to be more interwoven after all.
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72 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the best movies I've seen, July 12, 2012
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I can't remember the last time I've been so moved by a film -- maybe never. What's it about? Everything. It's hard to think of a major theme of human existence that is not explored in this movie. What it's mostly about is a teenage girl's confrontation with mortality. The title comes from a beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called "Spring and Fall," which is read in the film by Matthew Broderick, playing Anna Paquin's high school English teacher:

To a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Even now as I read that poem and recall the powerful closing moments of the movie -- where Paquin weeps and knows why -- a tear comes to my eye.

The film has an effortless realism. The classroom scenes and the lawyers are pitch-perfect. I mention them in particular, because movies usually get them wrong. The depiction of smart teenagers (and teachers) -- what they say and how they say it -- is dead-on. Every character is fully drawn. You know them all, and empathize. Some think the movie is too cluttered. I suppose the Matt Damon subplot is the least successful -- at least in the theatrical cut -- but I did not find the movie overstuffed. You need it all to appreciate the girl's coming of age as she deals with so many of the usual adolescent challenges, plus the outrageous fact of death.

This is a brilliant, spellbinding movie from start to finish.
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47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars FORMATS :: Read this before you buy, July 18, 2012
By 
Vajra (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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Be aware that while this set does contain both versions of the film, it includes them IN ONLY ONE FORMAT EACH. The theatrical release is here ONLY in Blu-ray, and the extended version is here ONLY as a DVD. If like me you don't have Blu-ray, you won't be able to watch the theatrical release. And if on the other hand you wanted to watch the highly-regarded extended version in Blu-ray quality, this set won't give you that option.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Smart Writing and Incredible Acting! A MUST SEE, June 23, 2012
The 411 by Maria:

This is an absolute must see movie. A+ cast! Stellar performances by Anna Paquin and J Smith Cameron. Paquin plays Lisa a 17 year old girl high school student and lives in Manhattan with her mother (Cameron) and brother. Smart script and dialogue about how life chews us up and spits us out.

When Lisa sets out to find a cowboy hat, she inadvertently causes the death of a woman crossing the street.

Guilt and frustration alters her already "too smart for her own good" youthful view of the world. The movie takes its time and centers around complex day to day issues; death, hatred, real world events like 9/11, racial differences, teen pregnancy, drugs and divorce. Sounds like a devastating film? It isn't it is a centered, deep, thought provoking movie of the realities of the world our children are growing up in and how it affects them.

So well done, I will be thinking about it for days.

Anna Paquin and J. Smith Cameron along with the rest are incredible. Brilliantly acted! The scene of the bus accident is a harsh reality and Paquin will never be just Sookie to me again!

FYI: Not a child friendly film. Nudity, harsh language and a bloody accident add to the movie and are not there for dramatic visuals.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and real with bold performances; extended cut vs. the released, July 13, 2012
By 
A. Kate (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
I watched the longer director's cut after watching the theatrical release on streaming because I didn't want to miss a masterpiece. It turns out an extra half hour doesn't make or break this film, but I was glad for the exercise because I wanted more clues to the film's intentions. It has a naturalistic sprawl to it that challenges one to tie everything together neatly.

Anna Paquin plays Lisa, a high-school student who inadvertently causes an accident and for her own redemption seeks some form of accountability for the victim's death. For all her noble intentions, she's not an entirely likable character. As a private school student in NYC, she reflexively knows she's entitled, but there's a fine line between being self-aware and self-absorbed. The victim's best friend warns her not to make the tragedy her own story. Adolescents don't feel more because they haven't experienced anything yet, they just feel more easily, she says.

Yet we're thrown into sympathy with how and what she sees. She's in a period of life where she's figuring out what's important to her. There's a cacophony of voices out there and what happens to seep in is partly what will define you forever. She seethes with teenage contempt for her mother while speaking with affable deference on the phone to her father, who lives on the other coast. She makes her first forays into sexual experience with both frankness and diffidence. She's the most openly guarded young woman on the Upper West Side. Paquin plays her part with electrifying and unpredictable verve. Matt Damon, as her math teacher, eyes her warily like she's a bomb waiting to go off, which is both amusing and well warranted.

Differences between the director's cut and the theatrical release: The main action is the same, but Lonergan flushes out her relationships with the various boys/men in her life, so later scenes don't seem so sudden. In the first half, it's helpful and in the second half, I actually prefer the more abrupt and ambiguous nature of the released cut. Lisa's mom has more scenes with her suitor and there are more school scenes, showing Lisa is involved in a play, effectively a therapy session for the kids and dividing the kids who are wrapped up in their earnest feelings from the ones who've chosen to take the view of ironic detachment. I could take it or leave it. But the reason I would recommend the longer cut are the shots of New York. The briefer shots of the city in the shorter version seem more perfunctory or maybe pretentious--yes, that is slow-mo walking. But in the longer version, they feel more organic. These aren't Woody Allen shots of the golden skyline and gleaming bridges. Rather they are views from buildings of other taller buildings. A cocoon of humanity.

And what I loved most in both versions are all the small things that are finely observed. The universal furious hand-waving signifying the person in the room to shut up as ONE IS ON A VERY IMPORTANT PHONE CALL; Lisa walking on the street through a pack of boys, vibrating with self-consciousness and defiance. I know if I had seen this in a theater, we would have all laughed at the teen boy crying after an unsuccessful phone call. It may be a failure of this ambitious work that was so exalted that I remember all the small, domestic details more, but everyone will probably take something different from this movie.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unexpected Emergence of Tragedy..., January 13, 2013
As a child on a family trip in the 1970s, I saw a motorcycle speed past with a teenage couple. A car was making a u-turn and the motorcycle slammed into it, the teenagers taking flight onto the cement. I screamed and my parents stopped to assist the pair, who were sitting on the road, faces and jeans covered in blood. The kids were fine, but I have never forgotten the traumatic scene. I was reminded of this when watching "Margaret," Kenneth Lonergan's epic 2011 film, as seemingly out of nowhere a similar incident takes place on the streets of New York City. One of life's mysteries is the unexpected emergence of tragedy, appearing as rapidly as the funnel of a tornado. Sometimes no one is to blame, a terrible truth difficult to grasp.

When viewing "Margaret" for the first time, I was fortunate to have no preconceived notions. Its unique structure created a rare sensation of being unable to predict the outcome. This is a brilliant masterpiece, audacious and deeply inspired. Longeran, the writer and director, has dared to be great with the kind of project reminiscent of filmmakers of the 1970s. As I later learned, "Margaret" was filmed in 2004, but Lonergan became obsessed in the editing room, unable to achieve a final cut. Lonergan was trapped by a maddening vision in the great tradition of Sam Peckinpah (Major Dundee), Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now [HD]) and Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo). Such a quest produces the kind of art "Margaret" represents. Ahab goes after a whale. Herzog transports a boat. Lonergan, an unlikely existential madman, goes after life's meaning in post-911 New York.

Okay, so this film remained in hiatus for years, finally reaching theaters in 2011. I knew none of this when viewing it, and was stunned by unexpected greatness. Lonergan's previous film was You Can Count On Me, a wonderfully-acted independent drama perhaps a tad overrated. And then came "Margaret," and Lonergan may well have destroyed his career. No matter, this film plays like Chekhov, a visionary work with many questions and few answers. I'm amazed by the negative reviews and realize critics were aware of the film's troubled background. Luckily, I was blissfully ignorant.

In one of the great performances, Anna Pacquin plays Lisa Cohen, a budding high school teenager who fatefully witnesses urban tragedy. She represses the trauma and for the remainder of the 150-minute film (another version runs three hours) she attempts to come to terms with its deadly consequences. The trauma festers, bubbling to the surface in fits of anguish. Pacquin's character, tortured by guilt, wants to do the right thing even if there is no clear answer as to what is "right." Lonergan is perhaps creating a parable for the New York terrorist attacks, followed by America's war with Iraq, or viewers can take it for something else -- a coddled though clever New York teen in serious need of therapy.

But the film is so well made, I'm of the belief Lonergan was on to something. Perhaps one of the hard truths of life is our own insignificance within the universe, where unexpected tragedy can strike at any time. We have no power over such occurrences, and justice oftentimes does not exist. Once such a truth is realized, have we lost the innocence of childhood? If this sounds like a brooding novel, that's because "Margaret" plays like one.

It's difficult to categorize this drama, but I was reminded of the works of Michael Haneke (The Michael Haneke Collection (The Piano Teacher/Funny Games/Code Unknown/The Castle/Benny's Video/The Seventh Continent/71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) (7pc), The White Ribbon [Blu-ray], Cache (Hidden)). One of our greatest living directors by way of Austria, his morose films never follow convenient paths, with shocking violence erupting at unexpected moments. His thought-provoking dramas are as unsettling as a Droog humming Beethoven. Lonergan has dared to tread similar turf.

"Margaret" is supported by an extraordinary ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo, Jean Reno, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin and Rosemarie DeWitt, each with crucial moments providing layers to this complicated film. An added note must be made about the performances of J. Smith Cameron, as Lisa's mother, and Jeannie Berlin, as an elder friend who becomes Lisa's uneasy confidante. These essentially unknown actresses give searing portrayals in difficult, unwieldy roles. Lonergan's film shocked me, not just because of its emotional truth, but because of its tenacious refusal to follow any kind of convention common in films today. "Margaret" is one of the great films of the 21st century.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Among the cinematic masterpieces, December 30, 2012
Disclaimer: This is a review of the extended version which I recommend. Many negative reviews seem to relate to the theatrical version which was shortened making the relevance of some of the material difficult to ascertain. This review is my opinion and may in no way relate to situations or events real or imagined.

In Margaret, Keith Lonegran has produced a masterpiece. I was captivated by this film from start to finish. Lonegran's film is nothing less than symphonic in its harmonization of the milieu, the story, the cast, the score, operatic scenes, poetic and literary references, brilliant cinematography, and random bits of overheard conversations into what almost amounts to a musical arrangement. Margaret is a complicated rendering of a seemingly simple story line into a timeless tale of humanity's foibles. Cut in the mold of a Shakespearean tragedy but much more accessible in the vernacular, Lonegran's tale turns on the drama following a heady self absorbed 17 year old, Lisa (Anna Paquin) who is dealing with her complicity in a horrific, graphically detailed accident that took a woman's life all the while attending private school and trying to deal with her parents divorce post 9-11 on New York's upper west side. The tidal wave of emotion unleashed builds with intensity until a literal crescendo set to the barcarolle opera number "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" that almost magically binds the viewer to the characters, the audience at the Met, and the opera cast themselves.

Some might wrongly conclude that the ball got rolling on the action in the film when the accident happened, but that would be a superficial examination, for as in Shakespeare a tragedy early in a drama often serves only to ignite a fuse that burns slowly and tortuously to a powder keg of misery implanted in the center of the characters lives years prior. This is a story whose seeds were sown in the persona's and affectatious universe of Lisa's now divorced parents and the repressed turmoil of the fractured lives left in the wake of their separation.

Naturally some will not have the patience for it and some will not see the point. Some will love it and some will be downright outraged. When you read the reviews you will see this to be true. The irony of the reviews for the film are that they serve as proofs of the things the film is trying to get at: people are different, they like different things, they can go berserk on trivialities, they can be quite strident when expressing their own views and they often view their interpretation to be the correct one, and they don't mind telling you, oh and they make mistakes and don't pay attention, a lot.

Margaret is unlike most films in that it really makes the viewer work to get a handle on what it's all about. It hides it light under a bushel so to speak. Firstly, the title Margaret comes from a poem by Gerald Manly Hopkins which is read in a classroom scene and whose theme is the hinge on which the action swings, that being misperceived sorrow. Secondly, there's an excerpt from King Lear that is brilliantly placed in another classroom sequence which bears a direct relation to the work's central thematic elements; that of humankind's almost unfailing inability to accept responsibility for its own actions and to chalk up consequences to fate, and deeds to having no other options. Thirdly, there are two operas, Bellini's Norma and Offenbach's The Tale of Hoffman, which should be watched before viewing. And lastly, you really can't take your eyes off the screen for most of the production because every angle and perspective of the camera bolsters and almost every snippet of dialogue underscores the main themes.

If you are looking for a "When Harry Met Sally" "Speed" or "Laura Croft Tomb Raider" you might be disappointed as it's not that kind of film. Not that it isn't riveting, it is. And not that it doesn't have a lot of action, it does. It's just an unconventional kind of riveting action, definitely not the typical Hollywood script. In the end we see the characters laid bare and their schemes and manipulations exposed. That's the ending. In that respect Margaret plays more like a European film than an American one. And that's fine with me. I loved it.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Margaret, are you grieving?...It is Margaret you mourn for.' Gerald Manley Hopkins, July 12, 2012
By 
This review is from: Margaret (Amazon Instant Video)
MARGARET is and has been a troubled movie - sophisticated examination of one girl's post-traumatic transformation as part of a larger point about how one's notion of importance is dwarfed by the larger worldview. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and shot in 2005 as a three-hour film, the movie has remained on the shelves since its completion in 2007 over legal problems and finally is available for viewing in a 150-minute version. Though it has flaws it contains some of the most sophisticated dialogue and philosophical points about where we are in our society today that the editing glitches become secondary background noise in a compelling film. The title (no one in the film is named Margaret) references the Gerald Manley Hopkins poem `Spring and Fall: to a young child' which is quoted at the top of this review.

MARGARET focuses on a 17-year-old New York City high-school student Lisa (Anna Paquin) who feels certain that she inadvertently played a role in a traffic accident that has claimed a woman's life, Monica (Allison Janney): Lisa was chasing a bus whose driver Maretti (Mark Ruffalo) ran a red light because of Lisa's distraction trying to discover where the Maretti bought his cowboy hat. Monica dies in Lisa's arms while asking for her daughter also named Lisa (we later learn Monica's daughter died at age 12 from leukemia). Lisa at first feels sorry for Maretti, thinking that if she tells the truth Maretti will loose his job and his family support. Lisa's actress mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) encourages her to not give accurate testimony to the police, a decision Lisa follows and spends the rest of the film regretting, and in making attempts to set things right she meets with opposition at every step. Torn apart with frustration, she begins emotionally brutalizing her family, her friends, her teachers, and most of all, herself. She has been confronted quite unexpectedly with a basic truth: that her youthful ideals are on a collision course against the realities and compromises of the adult world.

The world that Lisa occupies includes teachers - played by Matt Damon (who crosses a forbidden line when Lisa seeks his advice as the only truly adult man she knows, Matthew Broderick whose class discussions over literature are brittle and acerbic and deeply disturbing - her introduction to adolescent needs and physical incidents at the hands of John Gallagher, Jr. (now of The Newsroom fame), Paul (Kieran Culkin) - her relationship with her needy single mother Joan whose newly dating Ramon (Jean Reno), her contact with the deceased's friend Emily (Jeannie Berlin - brilliant), and the deceased's only family - all in an attempt to somehow set things right but Lisa admitting that she is as responsible for Monica's death as is Maretti. But the world outside can't cope with anything but financial compensation as the resolution to Lisa's angst.

There are many other characters brought to life by some VERY fine actors and the stunning musical score by Nico Muhly includes moments at the Metropolitan Opera where we actually get to see and hear Christine Goerke as Bellini's Norma singing `Casta Diva' and Renée Fleming and Susan Graham singing the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman, allowing the opening and closing of the film to be accompanied by a quiet guitar piece, as well as proving Muhly's very highly accomplished music to underscore the moods of the film. The cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski underlines the tension - form the imagery of slow motion crowd movement in New York during the opening sequences to the stabilization of important encounters between the characters. A lot is said and screamed and the level of communication and actions by Anna Paquin's Lisa alienate the audience at times, but the film makes some very solid statements about how we are acidly interacting or not connecting in our current state of society. That deserves attention. The film requires a lot form the audience, but in this viewer's mind it is well worth the time. Grady Harp, July 12
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A movie that evokes Pity & Terror, August 18, 2012
By 
Others have summarized this amazing coming-of-age movie. Let me just add that Kenneth Lonergan has made a masterpiece, and the performances of Anna Paquin, Jeannie Berlin and J. Smith-Cameron are out of this world! The milieu is Manhattan's Upper West Side (with all the ethnicity that implies) but there's a universality here, and real Aristotelian power. At the end I felt pity and terror...very rare in my movie-going experience. Yes, there are flaws. Yes the production had a troubled history. And, no, this movie won't be to everyone's taste. But I view it as a stunning achievement, one not to be missed!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intersection, August 2, 2012
By 
Douglas King (Cincinnati, OH United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
"Margaret" was supposedly filmed 7-8 years ago, and for reasons I'm not sure of, sat on the shelf until finally a group of film critics advocated for its release. After watching it, I can understand why ... it's a difficult film, hard to categorize, but also rich, provocative and brilliant.

The superficial storyline of the film involves a 17 year old girl, Lisa (Anna Paquin, looking much more natural than she does now in her toned, blond TrueBlood persona) who is indirectly involved in a fatal accident in which a woman is killed by a bus. Confused and guilt-ridden, she goes about trying to do the "right thing," which in her mind involves making sure those responsible (including herself) are held accountable, as well as trying to get justice for the deceased. But at every turn, her effort is met with the ambivalence, apathy, and bureaucracy of the adult world.

However, as much as the film follows this dramatic central storyline, the film is also a portrait of all the much more mundane and subtle predicaments of being 17 years old. Lisa is no longer a child, and no longer coddled like one. She is expected to behave like an adult, but at the same time the other adults in her life constantly remind her of her youth and inexperience at every turn. She's impulsive and emotional, but also insightful and self-aware. She also wants to explore and experiment, and is aware of the power of her youthful sexuality, but also quickly finds out the repercussions of it. Around her are the archetypes of the kind of people most of us probably had in our lives at her age: her mother who is equal parts self-absorbed, caring, and clingy; the goodhearted but awkward friend who wants to date her; the experienced bad boy who she finds much more interesting; the pathetic teacher who is more interested in holding onto his tiny source of hubris than exploring a student's genuine ideas; and sadly, the one well-meaning, compassionate adult in her life who she hurts just because she can.

Paquin's performance is formidable, and would probably be award-worthy if it wasn't so old. The film itself, by alternating between high drama and subtle character exploration, serves as one of the best depictions of modern adolescence I've seen. "Margaret" isn't a perfect film, but the fact that it's a flawed masterpiece might make it even more appealing.
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