I Am Sam (2001)

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Released 14-Jan-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio
Audio Commentary
Featurette-Becoming Sam
Deleted Scenes-7
Notes-About The Production
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
dts Trailer-Piano
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 126:51 (Case: 132)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (90:20) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jessie Nelson

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Sean Penn
Michelle Pfeiffer
Dakota Fanning
Dianne Wiest
Richard Schiff
Laura Dern
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music John Powell

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Target and some would say Starbucks
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I can't say I was too keen on seeing this film when it was first released, for two main reasons. Firstly it was directed by Jessie Nelson, whose previous efforts included directing the incredibly boring Corrina, Corrina (Ray Liotta and Whoopi Goldberg), and writing the screenplays for the equally boring Story Of Us and tear-jerking weepie Stepmom. Secondly, if the latter was anything to go by, I Am Sam was definitely going to be one of those films that required a box of tissues on hand as a prerequisite when viewing and I'm not really a fan of films that can best be described as weepies. Those that shamelessly tug the heartstrings and in the process leave a few gaping holes in the story development, simply in an effort to get a few quick tears, are not my cup of tea. I Am Sam almost falls into that category, but it is somewhat saved and turned into a better than expected experience, solely on the performance of the lead character Sam Dawson, played by Sean Penn. He is simply outstanding in the role. So good in fact, that you forget it's Sean Penn, and truly believe he is Sam. He is most certainly one of the best actors going around today and based on this performance, I find it unfathomable that he missed the nod for the best Actor Oscar at this year's Academy Awards, which was won by Denzel Washington for his portrayal of the bent cop in Training Day.

    Sam (Sean Penn) is an intellectually disabled man who works at Starbucks Coffee by day and cares for his young daughter by night. Sam was left with the baby after the mother walked out on him immediately after the birth. Sam has cared for and raised his daughter since that day, providing her with all the love and caring he is capable of, even though he barely has the intellectual capacity of a seven year old. Flip forward seven years and Lucy (the adorable Dakota Fanning) is approaching her eighth birthday. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Lucy is surpassing Sam in the intelligence stakes and this is causing trouble not only at home, but at Lucy's school, where she is holding herself back to not cause further embarrassment to her disabled father. When a social worker intervenes and decides the best thing for Lucy is to be placed in foster care, Sam is distraught, especially as he struggles to work out exactly what is going on. He seeks the help of lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is a successful, Porsche-driving, self-absorbed, uptight yuppie b****. She tries to palm Sam off when he first approaches her, but after making a boast to her colleagues that she does accept pro-bono (free of charge) cases, she has to take his fight, lest she lose any credibility she had with her partners. So begins a sort of court-room drama that sees Sam and Rita battling it out with a very understanding prosecutor in Turner (Richard Schiff from TVs The West Wing). Sam has the support of his group of disabled friends and from neighbour Annie (Dianne Wiest), but still struggles to comprehend what exactly is going on around him. The fact that he is only permitted short visits twice a week with Lucy does not help and he is slowly unravelling under the pressure.

    One of the highlights of this film is most certainly the choice of music used throughout. The soundtrack received much of the attention when it was released, because it is unique in the fact that it was the first time a soundtrack had consisted solely of Beatles songs. Rather than the originals (which apparently would have cost more for the rights than the whole actual film did to make), the soundtrack is graced by some truly beautiful cover versions. Eddie Vedder's You've Got To Hide Your Love AwayRufus Wainwright's Across The Universe, Sarah McLachlan singing Blackbird, and Ben Harper performing Strawberry Fields Forever are just some of the highlights.

    I don't want to say too much about the ending, other than that I found it a little unsatisfying. It took the easy option for rounding out the story, despite the evidence mounting up during the plot development that a decision should have probably gone the other way. Love Is All You Need may be the line from a Beatles song, and a theme that sits nicely in this story, but it isn't reality, especially in this fast-paced, high-pressure society we find ourselves in today.

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Transfer Quality


    Apart from some excessive grain on the backgrounds in some scenes, this is a pretty decent video transfer. The video is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is also 16x9 enhanced.

    Reasonably sharp throughout with virtually no edge enhancement of any consequence. Shadow detail is exemplary. Unfortunately grain is noticeable in many scenes, particularly the muted interior of the courtroom. There is no low level noise.

    Colours are muted, with little vibrancy evident. From the director's commentary, and the comments made by the director of photography in the making-of featurette, this was an intentional choice. Cold blues dominate the courtroom and hospital scenes, while scenes featuring Sam and Lucy are much warmer and welcoming. Skin tones are perfectly natural with no evidence of any problems.

    I noticed no MPEG artefacts apart from some minor traces of Gibb effect at 70:14 on the edges of Rita's shirt.. There is no aliasing present, which is always a blessing. Film artefacts are also mostly absent.

    There are only one set of subtitles on this disc, these being the English variety. They are accurate and well presented on screen.

    This is a dual layered disc featuring RSDL formatting. The layer change occurs at 90:20 and is placed on a fade-to-black scene change. It is perfect.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio on this disc is a highlight, dominated by the very special soundtrack.

    There are a total of four audio soundtracks. In addition to the Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 English tracks, we are blessed with a dts English soundtrack encoded at the lower bitrate of 768 kb/s. Rounding out the selection is a Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary soundtrack. There are plenty of directional effects across the front speakers with some fleeting use of the rear speakers. Primarily dialogue based, the songs see the main use of the left/right channels, and they are beautifully presented. There is essentially no difference at all between the Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts soundtracks that I could discern. You really could randomly select either and not know which track you were listening to unless told.

    Dialogue is important in this film, and apart from a couple of mumbled sentences from Sam and his other disabled buddies, the dialogue is clear and well pronounced. There are no audio sync problems.

    Apart from Sean Penn's performance in this film, the most striking impact is surely delivered by the use of Lennon/McCartney compositions for the soundtrack. Performed by a range of artists including The Black Crowes with Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder with a heart wrenching version of You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, and Rufus Wainwright's absorbing Across The Universe. This is a quality soundtrack that I would have imagined would have been a popular seller in its own right. The original score is by John Powell and is very unique and quite catchy. I enjoyed the whole musical experience immensely.

    There is a little surround use scattered throughout, though this is primarily a dialogue based film that really doesn't call for much rear channel action. The subwoofer is likewise mostly silent throughout much of the film, but it again isn't really missed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Introduction

    Themed around the origami models that Sam makes, this is a professionally produced intro to the menu.

Audio Commentary - Jessie Nelson (Director)

    A screen-specific commentary track from the director Jessie Nelson. She details many of the production issues, casting decisions, the choices of the Beatles songs and also takes time to explain some of the technical setup aspects. She does fall into the trap of occasionally simply describing what is on the screen at the time, but has an easy and engaging tone that never becomes monotonous or boring.

Featurette - Becoming Sam

    This is quite a meaty featurette, running for 42:32 minutes and is considerably more than just a making-of promotional piece. It is quite documentary in its delivery, and comprehensive in its content. Topics such as the detailed research undertaken at a local disabled persons workshop, the casting, the look of the film, and a really interesting chapter on the choice of the Beatles songs for the soundtrack. Worth a look for sure. It is presented in a mixed aspect ratios of 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 with film images in 1.85:1, it also features 16x9 enhancement (the 1.33:1 images are presented with bars to the left and right of the screen).

Deleted Scenes

    There are a total of seven deleted scenes, running for between 40 seconds and 3:40 minutes, with an average of around a minute and a half. A welcome addition to any set of deleted scenes is the optional director commentary, and this set provides the ability to find out exactly why Jessie Nelson had to give them the chop. A couple of slightly different things are included here. There is one deleted scene that actually contain two takes, and the last scene is actually a series of unexpected moments (what the producers call them), which are really a set of blooper style clips.


    Very comprehensive screens of text on the actual production of the film, outlining much of its background and how the actors came on board and the like. Much of this is covered in the Becoming Sam featurette, but if you don't have time to watch that, these screens will fill in the important details.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Comprehensive biographies for all the cast (the minor cast members are catered for also) and the crew (including the writers, producers, and composer). Very detailed with a wealth of information provided.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and 16x9 enhanced, this trailer runs for 2:25 minutes and also features a full blown Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 disc is identical in every respect to the Region 4. The local disc is certainly the version of choice due to superior PAL resolution and a cheaper price tag.


    This film is certainly not without its faults, but to see the acting performance from Sean Penn as Sam is worth the price of a rental alone. He really is that good and was certainly robbed of the Best Actor Oscar. Despite the plot being a little bit too sweet in the ending and some unnecessary tear-jerking moments, it will still provide a decent night's entertainment. There are certainly ample scenes that will give the Kleenex a good going over should you be prone to the odd tear or two.

    The video is better than average, only let down by some excessive grain on certain scenes.

    The audio is excellent, though being primarily a dialogue based drama, it will not stretch your system by any means. The song soundtrack is superb.

    The extras are comprehensive and detailed, with little fluff or padding. The Becoming Sam documentary is particularly insightful.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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Comments (Add)
Same old Same old. - REPLY POSTED
Re: Same ol' Same ol' - Geoff (read my bio)
Distributor Change = Cheaper Price -
Distributor Change = Cheaper Price -
RE: Distributor Change = Cheaper Price -
I am Sam -