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Film Review

New films: 45 Years plus three moviebriefs

45 Years
Directed and adapted by Andrew Haigh

Charlotte Rampling is phenomenal as Kate Mercer in this story of a couple who’ve been married for 45 years, and about to celebrate their wedding anniversary, when a letter from her husband’s past undermines the stability of their relationship. Geoff Mercer is played by Tom Courtenay – and it’s not that he isn’t also very good, it’s just that Rampling is both wonderful and the center of the story as she reacts to the new information and feelings it uncovers.

It’s often said that it’s not possible to know exactly what’s in another person’s head or heart, even when you live with them and share a profound relationship. This is a story that takes that further by considering deeply a prior relationship that was at least as profound for one half of a couple yet almost entirely non-existent for the other, leaving no opportunity for judgment to even occur, let alone be accurate or meaningful. “45 Years” is tough to watch at times, largely because the emotions are so real and so raw – and it’s not a film that panders to the audience’s feelings any more than life would.

As the film progressed, I found myself enjoying small details and individual scenes that seemed astoundingly perfect. For example, the first time I saw Kate drive to town, my first thought was “yes, that’s the car they would own – sensible, pragmatic, non-ostentatious.” There are a couple of scenes during which Kate looks at watches in a jewelry store window, always with at least one other element in play, such as a chiming church clock in the background. And there’s a scene in which she plays the piano and puts away the sheet music she’s found in favor of letting her emotions spill across the keys and it may be the best piece of film music ever captured as she tries hard to let the lighter notes take over while the deeper, heavier tones keep dragging her down.

Meanwhile, however, a few elements feel like they’re in service to the story more than the characters. The film unfolds over the course of a week, as their anniversary party approaches, and it’s a useful device to juxtapose the planning of the event with the troubles, in a sort of one step forward, one step back narrative. Yet Kate seems like the sort of person who would have had this all planned weeks in advance, with one or two exceedingly thorough conversations or notes. The late planning seems more like something he would do than her.

It may seem like an odd point to make, but this is a film that succeeds or fails on the audience’s belief that these two people have lived together and shared the same space for as long as they have and so a writer can only get away with very few out of place details. Everything needs to feel familiar and repetitive, just as when Kate comes in from her morning walk and grabs the mail and it feels as though she’s done it hundreds of times before, at least since retirement. And so that when Geoff moves from his habitual chair in the living room, it’s immediately clear something is different between them.

“45 Years” is a study of a relationship 45 years in the making from two actors who’ve been honing their craft for even longer and who are ideally suited for these age-appropriate and supremely rare roles. If you don’t need your film watching experiences to be escapist, it’s well worth the time and you can find it at Sacramento’s age-appropriate and supremely rare Tower Theatre.

Moviebriefs

There are many loyal fans of the Coen brothers who like to make lists and rank their films – although those lists are often dissimilar to the point of being inverted, and so it doesn’t surprise me that I find some of their projects a bit hit or miss at times, as even the most ardent fans clearly aren’t consistently on the same page. I tend to like their blends of dark subjects and comedic elements more when the comedy is somewhat more overt, even if still dark. And to that end, “Hail, Caesar!” worked very well for me, telling the story of a troubled studio man, tasked with keeping myriad productions on time and on budget, regardless of creative differences or philandering that gets in the way. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix (who was a real person with a similar position at MGM) whose job gets a little harder when the star of the biggest project on the lot (a biblical epic in which a Roman officer has a life-changing encounter with Jesus), Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped. On its surface, “Hail, Caesar!” pokes fun at the studio system, the stars, the politics and mores of the time, and the movies being made to great effect. But if you take a look a little deeper, “Hail, Caesar!” becomes a delightfully layered allegory of a fixer struggling with his burden of alleviating the sins of those around him, in order to keep that world turning, set against the backdrop of the story of the struggle of the ultimate fixer of sins. It’s also interesting to watch it following so closely after the related themes of “Trumbo” and while previews are being shown for “Risen,” a soon to be released biblical epic in which a Roman officer has a life-changing encounter with Jesus (plus ça change…).

Rather than being one zombie film too many, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” actually breathes new life into the larger genre by throwing the romantic costume drama genre into the mix. Such a mashup works far better here than, for example, in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” as the original story structure (of “Pride and Prejudice”) is so solid to begin with and the new film simply alters the context and landscape. Thus, Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters are eligible young women, with a mother whose eager to marry them off to financially stable husbands. But they’re also trained warriors, skilled in the art of zombie extermination. The outcome prove to be as fun in the quiet moments as it is in the action scenes, with quarrels about young male suitors occurring while pistols and muskets are being disassembled and cleaned rather than over needlepoint and reading. A sequel to this movie will likely succeed or fail as much in these details as in the larger skirmishes.

Cherish the choice you have as to whether or not to watch “The Choice” – the latest jaw-droppingly unsurprising story of young but troubled love. I’ve enjoyed some of these Nicholas Sparks adaptations in the past but I wanted to pull the plug on this one in the first few minutes. I can’t remember the last time a film was so frustrating to sit through – and that’s from somebody who watched “Jane Got a Gun” last week and “Norm of the North” earlier this year. The setup, the location, the acting, the story – all make you feel like the camera could pivot at any time in the production and you’d see several more Nicholas Sparks stories (or their clones) all being shot at the same time, with extras walking directly from one shoot to the next, unable to distinguish which project they’re in at any given moment. I actually spent most of the movie picturing lead actor Benjamin Walker playing a younger Liam Neeson role in the imaginary prequel “Taken: Origins – Bryan Mills Acquires a Very Particular Set of Skills.” I far preferred the film in my head to the one on the screen.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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