Labor Day

Increasingly depressed and agoraphobic since her divorce, Adele (Kate Winslet) relies upon her doting son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith). At the start of the 1987 Labor Day weekend, mother and son are confronted by escaped convict Frank (Josh Brolin), who demands their assistance in eluding the authorities. Over the next few days, Frank’s kindness and innocence are manifest, and the trio has become a family—almost. Confused by conflicting emotions and threatened with the prospect of a competitor for his mother’s love, the awkward adolescent facilitates Frank’s capture. Adele has loved and lost again. Or has she?

Jason Reitman’s meticulous direction and Eric Steelberg’s poetic cinematography transform a routine case of Stockholm Syndrome into a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful love story. As with Reitman’s past films (Juno, Up in the Air), production values achieve a very high standard, best demonstrated when Frank teaches Adele and Henry how to make a peach pie. Image quality can be impressive, and resolution of fine detail—Adele’s tangled hair and dented Ford—often approaches excellence. Black level and contrast suggest a first-rate video transfer, as does the shadow detail in the drape of Brolin’s T-shirt, which here becomes a gray-scale tapestry. Colors, especially foliage greens, are well balanced, while fleshtones are rich and warm. Since Labor Day is a movie of memories, however, Reitman and Steelberg often utilize soft focus, induced flare, and other optical distortions to remind us that the narrative is Henry’s romantic reminiscence. As a result, ultimate video quality is intentionally less than reference-grade. lacks both flaw and flourish. This intimate film relies heavily upon dialogue, which, in this master, is perfectly articulated. On the other hand, save for some atmospheric spatial cues and the occasional Foley, you’ll barely know your surround channels are connected. Subwoofers won’t get much of a workout, either, as this midrange-focused soundtrack is limited in both frequency and dynamic range. The real sonic star of the show is Rolfe Kent’s evocative, deceptively complex orchestral score and the tonal quality of acoustic instruments, which is both harmonically detailed and notably realistic.

The excellent Blu-ray Combo Pack includes a wealth of worthwhile extras including a full-length commentary track by Reitman and associates, “End of Summer,” an informative documentary, and six deleted scenes. The standard DVD is also a first-rate transfer. A brilliantly crafted small-scale movie, Labor Day serves both as fuel for hopeless romantics and a lesson in inspired filmmaking.

Studio: Paramount, 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 111 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith