One of the more impressive surprises of 2011 was Vera Farmiga's directorial debut, "HIGHER GROUND," now available on blu-ray from SONY. The film revolves around Corrine Walker and her journey into adulthood, raising a family, alongside her personal journey in understanding her spirituality and it's place in her life. It's a deliberately paced, but never "dull" film. Her directorial debut is terrific, showing a surprising restraint when needed, along with vision, made all the more impressive while giving such a believable performance.
Beginning with another actress(her daughter, Taissa Farmiga?)as young Connie, we follow her growing up, meeting, falling in love with and marrying an aspiring musician. While on the road for a tour, the band's bus gets in an accident, sending it careening into a lake, almost causing the drowning of their child. Certain the God saved their baby, they become committed to the bible and attempting to live a correct life. However, as Corinne begins to learn, there is no perfectly "correct" life, and no matter how sincere one's desire and quest to find salvation, the trials and tribulations of life can never be predicted. Beginning to question some of their church's teachings and interpretations of the bible, she's made to feel inappropriate for even communicating her own questions, driving a wedge between her and the church and her husband.
While the various struggles of life appear to test her faith, the fact that it's still "always" inside Connie, somewhere, makes for a powerful and poignant drama. It's also refreshing to find a film involving religion that never comes close to bashing or ridiculing faith.
What will most likely frustrate viewers lies in the fact that the ending doesn't offer any complete, easy resolution. As with many fine, independent films, "HIGHER GROUND" raises more questions than it answers, just as real life manages to do the same. The film's pacing may also be challenging for typical mainstream theatergoers, but for those willing to show patience, there's a lot to admire about "HIGHER LEARNING," whether it's the outstanding performances, direction, or drama itself.
SONY has provided the correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio for this AVC MPEG-4 1080p blu-ray. Colors are rich throughout, and the variety of hues within the many natural settings are perfectly rendered here. Shot digitally, the level of depth is even more impressive than what can often be found on HD transfers, consistently feeling natural. Blacks are deep enough to retain strong depth, in even the darkest night scenes. An excellent transfer!
SONY has provided a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. Focused on dialogue, this is far from an aggressive mix. Other than to enhance the music of the band, most of this lossy mix is center channel based. Still, minor ambient effects provide a sense of environment when needed. Even with a sparse use of effects, there is terrific fidelity and what's presented feels natural and fitting the director's approach to the material.
SONY has provided plenty of extras, all in 1080p!
An audio commentary with Varmiga, co-star Joshua Leonard and the film's producer, is consistently engaging and insightful.
A featurette, offering cast/crew insight, is actually more entertaining than most featurettes of late.
A brief production diary, deleted scenes, outtakes and alternate scenes, are also offered with the film's theatrical trailer.