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THE NOTEBOOK
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, James Marsden, Kevin Connolly, Sam Shepard, Joan Allen
Director:  Nick Cassavetes
Audio:  Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.4:1
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  See Review
Length:  124 Minutes
Release Date:  January 20, 2009

“Maybe today is a day for a miracle.”

Film ***1/2

The Notebook was a modest, unassuming film with a modest, unassuming release initially…but word of mouth turned this into one of the most beloved pictures of the new millennium.  It’s a splendidly acted tale, simply told, and in one respect, might have been no different than any number of other love stories that have graced the screen for a hundred years.  But the movie, as directed by Nick Cassavetes based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, became something greater than the sum of its individual parts by touching on the basic fears and hopes that make us all human.

In the modern setting, an elderly man named Duke (Garner) dutifully tends a dementia patient (Rowlands) in a nursing home.  They spend their hours with Duke reading to her from a notebook that chronicles a long ago love story between Noah Calhoun (Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (McAdams).  It’s fairly typical stuff; he’s a poor laborer, she was born into wealth.  Nothing in common, but when has that ever stood in the way of movie romance?

Her parents, particularly her mother (Allen) disapprove, and eventually take Allie away.  Interference keeps them from communicating with each other, and after years have passed, Allie has taken up with another, the war veteran Lon Hammond Jr. (Marsden), a man of wealth and a good heart.  All seems perfect.  But why does her heart seem so unfulfilled?

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that the modern aged couple are in fact Noah and Allie.  While their youth story is basic and formulaic, it’s the characters in their declining years that really give the movie its weight and strength.  It’s a great fear of every couple that one day the one you love will look at you and no longer remember who you are, and it’s a sad fact of dementia that as it progresses, there is a point of no return where those precious memories are gone for good.  But we hope, as does Noah, who now dedicates his life to his fading bride, hoping and praying for one last miracle.

And believing in miracles is what makes us who we are.  Sometimes hope in the impossible is more than enough to keep us going through the most troubling of times.  There are scenes between Noah and Allie that are beautiful and absolutely devastating.  If they don’t ring out with textbook truth, they certainly deliver emotional and human truths.

This is a remarkable cast…both Gosling and McAdams infect their characters with heart and spirit, which earns our emotional investment that gets paid off in the remarkable work of Garner and Rowlands.  This may be the finest work of James Garner’s long and storied career, and Gena Rowlands, being directed by her own son, is an actress capable of showing great strength even at her most vulnerable.

I have to admit…this film reduced my wife and me to tears.  Even sitting here writing this review, my memories of the movie are making me a little misty.  It would take a heart hardened by years of cynicism not to be moved by this beautifully told tale that gives us a little glimpse of the humanity in us all.

Video ****

Simply gorgeous…right from the opening shots of a boat on a lake at sundown, this Blu-ray transfer delivers a superbly defined and beautiful viewing experience rich in colors, tones and detail.  The lovely Carolina outdoors are vibrant and alive, and interiors spaces, whether light or dark, render amazing clarity and crispness.  You might think of action or CGI as the perfect vehicle for 1080p, but wait until you see what this quiet romance has to offer.

Audio ***

The film is mostly dialogue-oriented, with only a few bigger scenes here and there to lend dynamic range, but the spoken words are clean and clear against the beautiful music score.

Features ****

This handsomely packaged collector’s set features commentaries from director Nick Cassavetes and author Nicholas Sparks.  There are separate featurettes on Cassavetes and Sparks, along with a look at cast members Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, as well as the locations used for the southern drama.  Rounding out is a trailer, 12 deleted scenes and a screen test for McAdams.

The real plus is the book-like packaging, which features a 46 page photo scrapbook detailing the story, along with stickers and corners to add your own touches to the book.  There are also a pair of decorative bookmarks and a set of 16 notecards with envelopes.

Summary:

The Notebook only seems to grow in reputation and popularity, and deservedly so.  Thanks to the acting, story and direction, this is a film that takes what might have been routine material and elevates it to something beautiful, heartbreaking, hopeful and ultimately unforgettable.  With this superb collector’s set from New Line, now is the perfect time to relive the memory.

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