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I am Sam
DVD disk
10.05.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
I am Sam order
Director:
Jessie Nelson

Actors:
Sean Penn
Michelle Pfeiffer
Dakota Fanning

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A big shot lawyer (Pfeiffer) gets shamed into taking on the case of Sam Dawson (Penn), a disabled man with the intellectual capacity of a 7-year old who's fighting the court to retain custody of his daughter. Jerking tears along the way, she learns as much about herself as she helps him during the ordeal.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Get your box of tissues ready and prepare to turn into a teary mess. Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer, a pair of three-time Oscar nominees, team up in this extremely emotional story of a man trying to show the world that despite his shortcomings, his love for his young daughter can make of him a good father. To anyone who has a soul, this story plays on the most cruel of fears, that of having your child taken away from you. That child, played incredibly here by young Dakota Fanning becomes the centerpiece of a touching play involving the court, the foster family and Sam, all claiming to have her best interest at heart and yet never bothering to listen to her own pleas to be reunited with her father. Fanning breaks through your screen in an adorable yet extremely heart-wrenching performance. More to come from this kid? Let's hope so. As a non-fan of child actors, I have to tip my hat to this youngster.

Sean Penn is fantastic as usual and continues to add to his reputation as one of the rangiest (can I say that?) actors in Hollywood. If only more would take chances like him and go out on a limb, maybe the Academy and I could agree for once (hear that Denzel, old boy?). Penn's portrayal of Sam is a master's touch and his character is balanced off perfectly by Pfeiffer's take-no-prisoners lawyer Rita Harrison. A perennial favorite of mine, the elegant and always strikingly beautiful Pfeiffer puts on yet another great display and demonstrates once again why people flock to the movie screens at the mere mention of her name. Both Penn and Pfeiffer are supported by a great cast including Dianne Wiest, Richard Schiff and Laura Dern, but another great addition is Sam's little group of friends, who get together regularly for video night, IHOP night and other little sorties they make together, proving that they can be as "normal" as anyone else.

Credit goes out to director Jessie Nelson who conveys a true sense of closeness between the father and the child and who manages to play with your emotions well enough to make you think about what you'd do under the circumstances. Although the pace does get a bit too slow at times, the film's overall mood is as ambivalent as Sam's own, which gives the viewer added empathy towards the guy's predicament. Overall, a very good film, with some great performances, a fantastic newcomer and a story you won't forget anytime soon.
THE EXTRAS
The first feature available is a feature-length commentary by director and co-writer Jessie Nelson. Basically it's a walk through the film, with Nelson filling in plenty of information about the film, the story, the characters, the cast and all those other good things. One thing I found particularly interesting was her mention of the fact that they referred to Sean Penn on the set at the "Baby Whisperer", since all the babies would gently fall asleep as soon as they got into his hands. I couldn't help but think that this was the same dude who knocked out a photographer a few years back. The guy can do it all! More commentary is available as an option during the 7 deleted scenes you can access, all of which add different elements to the film.

Next up was a 40-minute long documentary entitled "Becoming Sam". This very well-made and very complete documentary can be watched in its entirety or can be watched in 6 individual segments, each featuring a particular topic ranging from storyline, to character, to casting & soundtrack and more. Featuring interviews with cast members and filmmakers as well as some screen tests and production footage, you get treated to some rarities, including an interview with the charming Pfeiffer (you don't see much of her except in the movies themselves). If this woman doesn't make anyone swallow their own hearts, I'll be damned! She's a class act all the way.

Last but not least, in addition to the theatrical trailer, a Theatrical Press Kit is also available, offering more details in text format about the production itself, the cast and filmmakers. The bios are much more complete than what you normally find on one of these things, so it's actually a pretty neat thing to check out.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
If you feel like watching a film that's going to drain out your tear ducts, then this is go-getter for you. You can't expect to ever go wrong with either Penn or Pfeiffer and true to form, they deliver once again with great performances. A truly solid movie, I have to rate it a strong rent before you choose to buy it. I'm not sure it can stand up to many repeated viewings but I sure as heck can't advise against making this a permanent addition to your collection.
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