A visually stellar period piece from "Monsoon Wedding" director Mira Nair, "Vanity Fair" is the latest adaptation of William Thackeray's popular novel. This time, Reese Witherspoon ("Sweet Home Alabama", "Election") stars as social climber Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon), who is almost always looking for a way to rise her status above the low level she'd been born with. She eventually finds herself tutoring the children of Mr. Crawley (Bob Hoskins) - when she fits in well enough, she sets her sights on Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy).
Although she's claimed a place in higher society when she claimed Rawdon, things don't last terribly long, and financial problems set in. However, there's also George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), the husband of Becky's best friend (Romola Garai), who starts to take a liking to her. There's also the matter of Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne), who seeks Becky's companionship, but also some things in return. Needless to say, Becky can't keep all her plates spinning for very long.
Again, "Vanity Fair" is visually beautiful, with gorgeous locations and rich, stunning costumes. The cinematography (by Declan Quinn) is also exceptional. It's too bad the rest of the film doesn't hold up as well. Witherspoon, who really has to hold the film together, is a distractingly weak link. She's too perky and flat in a role that had to be at least a little bit vicious, dynamic and edgy. Her accent is fine, but other actresses would have handled this role better. The giant supporting cast tries their best, but a lot of the characters are not well-developed in this adaptation, which feels like it's compressed a lot to the final product we see here. The result is a movie that runs nearly 150 minutes, but feels like a good deal longer. Keeping up with the characters seems more like a chore than an enjoyable task, and the picture's story doesn't always progress smoothly from one event to another. Finally, this is a visually vibrant film, but the picture doesn't have the energy to match - it lacks urgency and again, the pacing often seems slow.
Still, there's elements to enjoy besides the visuals. The supporting performances, such as one the efforts by Bob Hoskins and others, are quite good. I also enjoyed the Indian influences that have been integrated into the movie, likely due to Indian director Mira Nair. The film does have things going for it, but Nair really never weaves them into an involving whole as much as I'd like.
VIDEO: "Vanity Fair" is presented by Universal in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally very good, although some minor concerns do present themselves at times. Sharpness and detail are good, but not great: the picture remains crisp and nicely defined, but stops just a bit short of razor sharp, with small object detail remaining just satisfactory. Still, the picture's appearance in this regard is a pretty accurate representation of what it looked like when I saw it theatrically.
The film's color palette is rich and luxurious, with vibrant, well-saturated colors that look warm and clean, with no smearing. The picture remained largely free of the usual flaws, as well - a couple of specks were spotted on the print used, and only very minimal edge enhancement and pixelation were seen. Flesh tones looked a tiny bit reddish at times, but largely seemed accurate. Overall, a very nice presentation.
SOUND: "Vanity Fair" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound mix is pretty enjoyable, with the surrounds used nicely for some light ambience and reinforcement of the music. Audio quality is fine, with clear, well-recorded dialogue, music and effects.
EXTRAS: Aside from a commentary by director Mira Nair, we get 14 minutes of deleted scenes (w/no commentary) and two "making of" documentaries: "Welcome to Vanity Fair" and "The Women Behind Vanity Fair".
Final Thoughts: "Vanity Fair" looks great, has some memorable moments and the supporting performances are good. Witherspoon wasn't the best choice for the lead, however, and the film feels longer than its nearly 150 minute running time. Recommended as a rental for those interested. The DVD offers good audio/video quality and a nice helping of supplements.
The Film ** 1/2