Blu-ray Review: Big Little Lies - An HBO Limited Series

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A major must-see from HBO, Big Little Lies is a seven-episode limited series—now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from HBO Home Entertainment. Based on Liane Moriarty's 2014 novel of the same name (adapted for the screen by series creator David E. Kelley), this is a beautifully produced showcase for three of the best actresses in Hollywood. It's also a smartly-structured murder mystery. We know from the outset that someone in the affluent city of Monterey, California has been murdered. We don't know who the victim is, nor the perpetrator. As we get to know the primary characters, we realize it could've been any one of them. Director Jean-Marc Vallée, known for the wrenching dramas Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, exhibits masterful control over the material.

As for those brilliant actresses, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman are residents of an upscale neighborhood, on the California coast. Each has her own share of family drama to sort through. Madeline (Witherspoon) struggles to keep her teen daughter Abigail (Kathryn Newton) on the straight and narrow. Her current husband Ed (Adam Scott) is at odds with Abigail's birth father, Madeline's first husband Nathan (James Tupper). He doesn't know the half of their marital problems, however. 
rsz_episode_6_big_little_lies.jpg Celeste (Kidman) has convinced herself that the abusive treatment she suffers at the hands of husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) is somehow a positive force. They have two young boys and an outwardly picture-perfect family life. But Perry's hare-trigger temper leads to psychological and physical injury to Celeste. What's more, his violent outbursts generally lead directly to furiously passionate sex between the couple. Robin Weigert makes a strong impression as Celeste and Perry's marriage counselor.

Shailene Woodley (the Divergent series) is fast establishing herself as one of the brightest new stars in the business. She plays Jane, a newcomer to Monterey—she and her son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) moved there in search of a fresh start. Jane's haunted by memories of Ziggy's father. Their backstory unfolds in bracing flashback. When Ziggy is accused of bullying a female student, daughter of the town busybody Renata (Laura Dern), Jane finds herself on the extreme defensive as most of Monterey (save for new friends Madeline and Celeste) regard her as persona non grata.

From those setups, Kelley spins an engrossing web of increasingly complex character relationships. Not quite everything works. Without delving too deeply into potential spoiler terrain, suffice it to say that red herrings abound as Kelley works to keep us guessing about the how's and why's of the violent crime that frames the entire narrative. It's the details that count, with each narrative tangent providing insightful moments (even when they don't contribute directly to the thrust of the plot). The story unfolds over the course of seven episodes, each running just under an hour. That may be an odd number, but it turns out to be just the right amount of time needed to tell the story. 
rsz_episode_2_debut_2_26_17-_reese_witherspoon_shailene_woodley_laura_dern_photo-_hilary_bronwyn_gayle_courtesy_of_hbo.jpg HBO Home Entertainment's Blu-ray offers cinematic A/V presentation, with each 1080p episode boasting a perfect transfer of Yves Bélanger's cinematography (Bélanger has collaborated frequently with director Vallée, including Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, and Demolition). Alas, the ball is dropped in terms of special features—all that's here is an "Inside the Episode" micro-featurette for each episodes (average running time per piece: one minute) and a none-too-revelatory "About Big Little Lies" 'making of' (seven minutes).

Big Little Lies is currently nominated for 16 Emmy Awards (between the 69th Annual Primetime Emmys, occurring September 17, and the 69th Primetime Creative Arts Emmys, occurring September 9 and 10). Among the nominations is one each for Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley (the former two in the Outstanding Lead Actress category, with Woodley relegated to Supporting—though she's very much a lead), and Laura Dern (also Supporting). Alexander Skarsgård snagged a well-deserved nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor. Between the intricate-yet-clear storytelling and the feast of incisive performances, Big Little Lies is not to be missed.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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