Breathe (2017)


Hollywood still knows how to capture romance in a single frame.

(2017) Biographical Drama (Bleecker Street) Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Edward Speleers, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Miranda Raison, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Amit Shah, Jonathan Hyde, Diana Rigg, David Wilmot, Emily Bevan, Stephen Mangan, Marina Bye, Dean-Charles Chapman, Sylvester Groth, Steven O’Donnell, Penny Downie, Camilla Rutherford. Directed by Andy Serkis

 

As a disabled man, I’m keenly interested in depictions of how the disabled were treated in years past. The picture is not a pretty one; often, those who had any sort of deformity or disability were warehoused, shut away from public view as much as possible. Those in extreme situations were often left to await death in depressing, grim hospitals with doctors who felt their job was merely to keep them as comfortable as possible until the end inevitably came.

This is not even on the radar of young Robin Cavendish (Garfield) in the early 1950s however. Young, healthy and exuberant to a fault he is a British Army veteran who is almost ridiculously athletic; he seems to excel at every sport he tries his hand at. Now that the war is over, he works as a tea exporter, travelling around the world.

But he runs into the beautiful Diana Blacker (Foy) at a cricket match and everything changes. He falls deeply, madly in love with her and she with him. He isn’t wealthy (she comes from privilege) but he gets by and it isn’t long before the two get married and she is joining him on his adventurous life, going on safari with him in Kenya while he hunts down tea leaves for English tea drinkers. It isn’t long before she is, as they used to say back then, with child.

But their idyllic life comes to a screeching halt when he gets ill and collapses. He is diagnosed with adult onset polio and is completely paralyzed from the neck down. He is unable to even breathe on his own. Kept alive on a respirator, Robin is flown back to England and put into a hospital where he can be properly cared for which in this case means waiting for the Grim Reaper to come knocking. Robin sinks into a deep depression, knowing the prognosis is death after two or three months of waiting. He doesn’t want to wait, in fact.

But Diana will have none of that kind of talk. Keep Calm, and Breathe is essentially her message. Robin wants to die at home; Diana has other ideas. She wants him to live at home. So she purchases a Regency-era home in the country and a respirator and her old nanny (Raison) is there to help nurse her husband.

This is a great improvement and Robin is infinitely more cheerful but he wants more. With the help of a mechanic friend (Bonneville) he helps design a wheelchair with an attached respirator. The world begins to open up a little. Soon he figures a way to outfit a car so that Robin can travel further afield. Slowly, it becomes clear that Robin isn’t about quality of life anymore; he’s about life itself.

This is a somewhat rose-colored version of the real life story of Cavendish and his family. Many innovations that help the disabled be more mobile (like car lifts) have come as a result of innovations that Cavendish and his friend Teddy Hall created. I wasn’t familiar with Cavendish before seeing this but the disabled community owes a great deal to his advocacy that even those who are severely disabled as he was could lead fulfilling, productive lives.

Garfield captures both sides of Cavendish beautifully; the dark depressed side and the upbeat, never-say-die side and he does it while spending most of the picture flat on his back and unable to move his limbs. Garfield manages to get a great deal across with just his face; he also manages to stay still which is never an easy task. Considering his performance here is at least the equal to his last one in Hacksaw Ridge which netted him an Oscar nomination, it’s not out of the range of reason that he might get another one here. It’s the kind of role Oscar tends to like.

Foy, so good in the Netflix series The Crown ups the stakes here and shows she has big screen potential as well. Her Diana Cavendish is heroic and if the screenplay makes her a bit more saintly than she likely was, it’s certainly understandable. The real Cavendish lived longer with polio-related total paralysis than anyone in the history of Great Britain and while that is admirable, it can’t have been easy on his wife. Watching over someone who is that disabled is a full-time job and one of the most stressful ones that you can have.

First-time director Andy Serkis (yes, the motion capture king) doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel but he does have a good eye for the English countryside, turning it into an almost Bronte sister-like look. The supporting cast isn’t super well-known here in the States but they are all excellent and there isn’t a misstep among any of the performances that I could detect.

The movie does get a little bit maudlin towards the end and the last fifteen minutes seem manipulative enough that I think that a lot of critics who tend to hate that kind of thing probably gave the film a worse review than it deserves because of it. Nonetheless this is an uplifting tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that is tonic in a time where we seem to hear nothing but bad news about the negative aspects of the human spirit nonstop.

REASONS TO GO: Garfield could net another Oscar nomination for his work here. Lovely cinematography and Bronte-like vistas elevate the film.
REASONS TO STAY: The film gets somewhat maudlin towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some mature thematic subjects including discussions of suicide, some bloody medical images and some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jonathan Cavendish, Robin’s real-life son, went into film production and is one of the producers on this film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/21/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Gleason
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Florida Project

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Anna Karenina (2012)


Alone in a crowd,

Alone in a crowd,

(2012) Drama (Focus) Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, David Wilmot, Shirley Henderson, Holiday Grainger, Pip Torrens, Susanne Lothar, Alexandra Roach, Luke Newberry, Aruthan Galieva, Tannishtha Chatterjee. Directed by Joe Wright

Our Film Library

Everyone knows the old saw that love is blind. We mostly come to think that it means that looks and faults don’t matter when you’re in love, but I don’t think that’s really the case. What I think that the statement means is that we are blind to the consequences of falling in love, so emotionally inundated we are by love.

The Leo Tolstoy classic has been made into big screen extravaganzas several times, most notably with the legendary Greta Garbo in the title role (twice). Here we get Keira Knightley who has shown that she has plenty of talent although perhaps not quite a match to her luminous beauty which is considerable; the girl might just be the prettiest face in all the world.

A brief plot synopsis for those not familiar with the Tolstoy work; Anna is the wife of Karenin (Law), a well-respected Russian government official in Tsarist Russia but one can scarcely characterize the marriage as a happy one. Karenin is emotionally distant, occasionally affectionate but generally not present. Many women over the years have identified with Anna, alone in a marriage to a man who barely realizes she’s there at all.

When she takes the train to Moscow on behalf of her brother, Count Oblonsky (Macfadyen) who has cheated on his wife and who has sent him to plead with said wife Dolly (Macdonald) to take him back, she meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), a dashing young soldier who is the object of unrequited love for Kitty (Vikander) who is anxious to marry the young man. Kitty, in the meantime, is the object of affection for Levin (Gleeson) who is thinking of freeing his serfs and is being urged by Oblonsky to take one of them for his wife. However, everything is thrown in disarray by Anna who falls in love with Vronsky. Hard.

The two begin seeing each other and are none too discreet about their feelings. This is a big no-no in St. Petersburg society at the time which tolerated affairs but only as long as they were kept in the shadows where they belong. It was a kind of hypocrisy that in a large way still informs our somewhat hypocritical  views towards the sexes. Even if you’re not a Russian literature enthusiast or familiar with the novel, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that this all leads to tragedy – and it does.

Wright has taken the conceit of staging the movie as if it were a play in a dilapidated theater (and in fact, they filmed in one just outside of London which was essentially the main filming location). There are backdrops that are very theatrical and occasionally we see audience members in box seats observing the drama. Players in the play sometimes step onto the front of the stage and address the audience directly. It’s certainly a bold move, the kind of thing someone like Baz Luhrmann might do.

But I have to admit it all feels kind of gimmicky and there’s no doubt that the stage-centric production design sometimes gets distracting. The costumes are lush enough (costume designer Jacqueline Durran won an Oscar for it) and the movie looks amazing, thanks in large part to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.

The acting though is kind of spotty, surprisingly. Law fares the best, making Karenin who often comes off as uncaring and downright mean in other filmed versions of the novel almost sympathetic here. Macfadyen, as the lusty Oblonsky, also performs well as a character that is a bit of a cad. Knightley, however, is oddly subdued here. There are almost no sparks between her and Taylor-Johnson which is critical – you have to be able to see why Anna would risk so much and get the depth of the emotion she feels for Vronsky. It is not helped by Taylor-Johnson who makes Vronsky something of a caricature. The miscasting for the role is obvious – and crucial.

The British film industry has always been reliable about producing costume epics as well as anyone, particularly those based on classics and Wright, with Sense and Sensibility and Atonement both to his credit, is as adept as anyone working now at the genre. However, the overwrought concept soon overwhelms the story and becomes more the focus than Tolstoy’s classic tale does. My recommendation is either read the novel or if you prefer seeing it onscreen is to find the 1935 version with Garbo which really is a classic. This is more of a noble failure.

WHY RENT THIS: Sumptuous production design and costumes. Decent performances by Law and Macfadyen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overwrought. Conceit of giving the film the look of a theatrical performance becomes distracting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sexuality and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot had to leave the film during pre-production due to painful sciatica which eventually required back surgery. He was replaced by Wright’s regular collaborator Seamus McGarvey.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a nifty time lapse photograph of the main set’s construction as well as interviews with the cast members.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.9M on a $51.6M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: In Secret

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

The Guard


In Ireland, fighting crime starts when they're young.

In Ireland, fighting crime starts when they’re young.

(2011) Comedy (Sony Classics) Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, Fionnula Flanagan, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Pat Shortt, Katarina Cas, Declan Mannlen, Dominique McElligott, Owen Sharpe, David Pearce, Wale Ojo, Sarah Greene, Darren Healey, Michael Og Lane, Laurence Kinlan, Gary Lydon, Laura Hitchings. Directed by John Michael McDonagh

Offshoring

In a cop buddy film, it always helps if you get complete opposites as partners – check. There needs to be terrific chemistry between the two partners – check. They need to have some pretty nasty baddies to go up against – check. Fun to watch? Read on…

Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is a member of the Garda (the Irish State police) in the tiny village of Connemara in County Galway. He is liable to drink on the job, spends time with hookers (Greene, McElligott) and his mom (Flanagan), dying in a senior home, in about equal quantities. He spouts off vaguely racist epithets when boozing in the pubs – which is often.

When a body is discovered (with pages of the Bible stuffed in his mouth and a message written in blood on the wall), Gerry doesn’t think too much of it. He honestly doesn’t believe he’ll ever get the resources to solve the crime – on that count he’s wrong, however.

A stick-up-his-ass FBI agent, Wendell Everett (Cheadle) is assigned to the case as it is believed that it is the work of a major drug operation working in the area. Boyle, as one of the senior Garda officers in the region, is assigned to Agent Everett because of his knowledge of the locality. Gerry reacts to this with the same enthusiasm as he might drinking a Slovakian whiskey. It might be good, but it’s not Irish.

The two bicker like an old married couple with Gerry constantly testing Agent Everett’s laid-back demeanor with outrageous statements or questions. Apparently he thinks, or at least to Agent Everett’s perspective, that because Agent Everett is an African-American that he’s an expert on all things ghetto as seen on the American television shows that have made their way to the Emerald Isle.

Still, the triad of drug runners – O’Leary (Wilmot), Sheehy-Skeffington (Cunningham) and their leader Cornell (Strong) are especially vicious and not opposed to burying an FBI agent or a Garda in a shallow unmarked grave if need be. Both men will have to learn to trust and depend on one another if they are not only to survive but to in fact solve the case.

There’s a lot to like about a film like this. McDonagh gives the movie an easygoing Irish charm. There is a lot of sniping back and forth in a way that feels familiar and comfortable, much the way barflies do “take the piss” out of each other. To that end he has done a great job in casting, starting with Gleeson, a gruff and tumble character actor who has that Irish charm that can’t be taught. Making matters even better is the addition of Cheadle, one of the more capable actors working today, who can do drama and comedy with equal precision. The two pros work exceedingly well together and create a partnership that is believable and fun to watch.

The rest of the cast is just as strong, much of it Irish and local to County Galway. There isn’t a performance wasted here and everyone not only knows what’s expected of them but delivers. This is as fluid an ensemble as you’re likely to get, with everyone working well together, even the extras.

Granted, if you’re looking for innovation in cop buddy movies, you won’t find it here. The plot is pretty standard and predictable and despite the lovely Irish edge that the production has, it doesn’t cover up that this is a pretty unremarkable story that most cop film lovers will see what’s coming in throughout. There are also a few slow spots in which not a lot happens, which could easily have been edited out.

That notwithstanding, this is still a pretty damn good film which slipped under a lot of radars here in the States, undeservedly so. If you like cop buddy films and haven’t seen this, by all means do. In fact if you haven’t seen this film, by all means do. The movie is more than entertaining enough for any audiences, but if you’re sensitive to certain words (the one that the Irish pronounce that rhymes with “kook”) be warned that the F bomb is dropped repeatedly to the point that fifteen minutes into the film you become numbed to it as it is used like Americans use “umm” or “err.” Otherwise this is one of those overlooked gems you’ll thank me for hooking you up with.

WHY RENT THIS: Excellent chemistry between Gleeson and Cheadle, and also Gleeson and Flanagan. A laconic Irish charm.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Nothing really daring or innovative plot-wise. Drags in a couple of places.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language (nobody curses like the Irish), a little bit of violence, some drug use and a wee bit of sexuality here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McDonagh is the brother of Martin McDonagh, director of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a few outtakes and the short The Second Death by McDonagh which includes several cast members from The Guard and introduces an early version of Gerry Boyle. There’s also a festival Q&A with Gleeson, Cheadle and McDonagh.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $19.6M on a $6M production budget; this constitutes a minor hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hot Fuzz

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Offshoring, Day 4