45 YearsReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/22/16 10:59:02
(Worth A Look)
When the Oscar nominations were announced last week, there were any number of controversies—ranging from the major one involving the lack of any non-white nominees in any of the major categories to Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander being nominated for Supporting Actress for roles that clearly belonged in the lead Actress category—and as a result, one of the most welcome bits of news wound up getting lost in the shuffle, the fact that Charlotte Rampling received a nomination for Best Actress. For many observers, this wouldn’t seem to be a big deal on the surface—she is, after all, one of the best and most distinctive actresses working today and the kind who automatically improves any movie she is in, no matter how good or bad (and as a quick check of IMDb will reveal, she has been in some doozies over the years)—except for the fact that this, astonishingly enough, is somehow the first time she has even been nominated for an Oscar. When it takes that long for the Academy to finally snap to and honor someone with a nomination after a lifetime of overlooking their contributions, it is oftentimes for a performance/film that is not up to their usual standards and is usually regarded as recognition for their entire career. Happily, when it comes to the film in question, the new drama “45 Years,” that proves not to be the case because she has clearly been nominated for appearing in a good film that she graces with one of the very best performances of her illustrious career.Rampling and Tom Courtenay play Kate and Geoff Mercer, a British couple who are one week away from celebrating their 45th anniversary with a big party. They have no children and there have apparently been some health issues in the past—the reason why they are marking their 45th anniversary and not their 40th—but by all accounts, they seem to have made a good go of it over the decades and appear to be as happy and comfortable with each other as they can possibly be. However, with the preparations for the party in full swing, a bombshell arrives in the most innocuous of ways—a letter informing Geoff that the body of his former lover, who fell to her death in a crevasse in the Swiss Alps nearly 50 years earlier during a climb they were on together, has been uncovered at last. This all happened before Kate and Geoff came together but this revelation has brutal repercussions on their own relationship as Geoff begins pining over mementos of that relationship that he held on to after all of those years, Kate finds herself realizing that the shadow of that previous relationship has managed cloud her marriage for all those subsequent years without even knowing it. As a result, a marriage that once appeared to be unshakable now seems to be in serious doubt of surviving the week and even if it does, it is obvious that things between the two of them will never be the same.
Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, who adapted David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country,” “45 Years” is a small and spare narrative that eschews big melodramatic blowouts for quieter and more incisive looks at a long-standing relationship and how even the most remote fissures can easily shatter them in the blink of an eye. From a narrative standpoint, this low-key approach is a welcome change for the expected histrionics, though I am not quite as in love with it as some other critics have been—possibly because of the vague similarities that it shares with a famous “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode from back in the day. What cannot be discounted, however, are the quality of the two performances. As the husband who has been carrying more than his share of secrets over the years, Courtenay is brilliant in the way that he suggests a man who, when all is said and done, does indeed love his wife but who continues to carry a torch deep inside—not just for his lost love but for the life that might have been—and whose ability to put a placid mask atop of his roiling emotions is decidedly unnerving.
As for Rampling, her work her is one of the best performances in a career that has already seen such highlights as “Georgy Girl,” “Zardoz,” “The Night Porter,” “Stardust Memories,” “Swimming Pool” and “Melancholia.” She has made a career of playing smart women with the kind of chilly demeanors that all but challenge audiences to like them. This time around, she is playing a more emotionally open—though by no means weak—character who fancies herself as being above any concerns over her husband’s life before here but who is nevertheless devastated by events that she cannot change, either in the past, present or future. Her final scene, where she and her husband share a dance to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is a wordless wonder in which everything that has been building up over the course of the week begins to bubble over even as her mate is able to go through the motions—it may be the single most devastating screen moment of 2015.I admit, “45 Years” may not sound like the most instantly entertaining choice that one could make at the multiplex this weekend and even those who follow the Oscars intently may consider it to be a low priority since it is a fairly good bet that Brie Larson will take home the Best Actress Oscar for her admittedly powerful work in “Room.” That said, if the idea of seeing a pretty good film that just happens to contain one of the peak performances in the career of one of the best, if most underrated, actresses working today is enough to perk your interest, you should definitely give it a look. Maybe not as a first date movie, however. . .
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