Thursday, 18 February 2016
After almost half a century of marriage, could their be anything you don't know about your partner? On the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) is about to have her understanding of her relationship with husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) shaken to its core when someone from his past is literally unearthed.
That's an ex-lover of Geoff's who died during a backpacking holiday before Geoff and Kate even met. But it's not just the similar hair colour and name (the victim was Katya) that has Kate questioning everything about the man she loves, as one minor revelation after another results in seismic emotional activity.
Writer-director Andrew Haigh's previous film, Weekend (2011), was about two men making a connection within a 48-hour period before one of them left for overseas. Conversely, 45 Years is about a life-long couple discovering new and not-so likable layers about each other and themselves.
Make no mistake, this is Rampling's film and she commands the screen in her quiet, coiled manner and with her questioning eyes. The veteran British actress, known equally for her roles in French films, fully deserves her first Oscar nomination; Courtenay is also good as the husband who, while growing ever distant, can't seem to understand his wife's curiosity about a past that doesn't involve her.
It's a film that may resonate more with older, more experienced viewers but 45 Years makes for excellent post-film date conversations about where the truth lies, and if sleeping dogs should remain so.
In the recent trend of "based on actual Hollywood events" films, Trumbo more resembles 2012's Hitchcock than 2011's My Week With Marilyn but is even less successful or convincing than Anthony Hopkins' prosthetics were in that former film about the making of Psycho.
Bryan Cranston plays the infamous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo whose Communist Party affiliations saw him and fellow screen scribes on the outer during the early days of the Cold War. Unable to officially work for the studios, Trumbo produced some of his best work -- Roman Holiday, The Brave One, Spartacus -- under pseudonyms, much to the chagrin of Commie-haters and hunters like celebrity gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren).
Presumably it is the film's look at a dark period in Hollywood's history and how art triumphed over conservatism which has provided director Jay Roach's film, adapted by John McNamara from a book by Bruce Cook, somewhat of a free pass but it really is hard to fathom why Cranston has been in the thick of awards season. Or maybe voters are just big Breaking Bad fans? Either way, in a lacklustre year for Best Actor, this is the least impressive performance among them.
And Helen Mirren's SAG nomination is even more of a mystery. A bad American accent and popping in and out of the drama like one of the nasty aunts from TV's Bewitched, her Hedda Hopper-cum-patriotic warrior is more akin to a salacious scribe from Potter world's The Daily Prophet; Mirren's millinery more magical than her performance.
Perhaps if the film had focused on one particular instance -- like the writing of Spartacus -- rather than spanning four decades and hitting biographical plot points to little dramatic effect, Trumbo would have been both more entertaining and politically punchier.
In a year -- the second consecutive year, unfortunately -- where no performances by non-white actors were nominated for Oscars, one can sympathize with Will Smith. He'll be boycotting this year's Oscars ceremony, partly as protest for the Academy's continued failure to recognise diverse talent and partly because he's no doubt miffed that his latest dramatic turn, as a real-life Nigerian-born doctor who uncovered the link between America's favourite past time and brain damage, has gone unrecognised.
It certainly must sting when a far inferior performance by Bryan Cranston (see Trumbo) has had unanimous love across awards season. Smith's is a solid enough performance, with an admirable Nigerian accent, but the role is another in his list of Messiah Complex heroes, and the film itself is far less hard hitting than the subject it is detailing.
As one former NFL footballer after another succumbs to suicide brought on by mental issues, Pittsburgh mortuary doctor Bennet Omalu, already known to take his time with his deceased patients, begins to take a closer look at the brains of the victims and the sport that they loved -- a sport he has no interest in and hence his lack of reticence in tackling the problem.
Naturally, the powers that be at the NFL don't want to hear that their multi-billion dollar business is killing the men whose backs they're money is made off, so ignoring, silencing and discrediting Omalu has them turning defense into offense. But the good doctor's Kenyan-born wife, Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and mentor and boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks adding some much needed levity) have his back.
An important story and an important issue, Peter Landesman's film (based on a GQ article by Jeanne Marie Laskas) is rather prosaic, never hitting any dramatic heights nor scoring any emotional touchdowns.