Sunday, January 24, 2016

"45 Years": The Double-Edged Sword of Performance Cinema

Now In Theaters
Oscar Nomination: Charlotte Rampling - Best Lead Actress

Charlotte Rampling’s nomination is the main reason I went out to see this film, and it’s easy for me to see why she was nominated.  45 Years is the kind of film that is built from the ground up to be a showcase for acting talent, and Rampling’s performance is just the kind of thing the Academy looks for in trying to fill a legacy spot in their female nomination pool, a respected older actress that will deflect attention from the fact that the other nominees are all young and hot.  In other words, she’s this year’s Meryl Streep.  But does a great performance make for a great film?  In this case, the actor showcase philosophy acts as a double-edged sword.

Kate (Rampling) and Geoff (an equally effective Tom Courtenay) are days away from celebrating their forty-fifth wedding anniversary when Geoff receives a letter in the mail.  Apparently, his ex-girlfriend Katya’s body has been found frozen in ice in the Alps after having fallen into a crevice in Geoff’s company fifty years ago.  As Geoff becomes increasingly obsessed with his past and with his lost Katya, Kate begins to investigate how Katya’s influence has secretly developed and tainted their long relationship in subtle and monumental ways.

The best thing about this film is that the two leads legitimately feel like a couple of many years, with routines and a status quo that feels normal without drawing attention to it, yet both characters are rich enough to have entire personalities separate from one another.  Courtenay doesn’t get enough credit for his portrayal of Geoff, a man succumbing to memory loss in his old age whose reminders of the past cause him to try to regress to his younger self.  Rampling does deserve the larger credit, though, as many key moments of the plot rely on her subtle facial expressions, Kate’s character arc relying more on what she isn’t saying to Geoff than what she actually is.

But that also works against the film as a whole.  Based on a short story, the film feels stretched to accommodate its minimalistic ninety minute runtime, leaving Rampling to do all the heavy lifting of padding out time to make the film feel long enough to justify feature length status.  There are many scenes of Kate simply walking about in public with a troubled look on her face, and, not to put to fine a point on it, these scenes are simply boring.  This already short film feels about a half hour too long, so the fidelity to the source material should have been sacrificed to develop a secondary plot.  This would have allowed the main storyline to develop at its natural pace while still giving the audience something interesting to watch.

Given the short runtime, though, I’m willing to be forgiving of that major fault in 45 Years.  Overall, you have to take 45 Years as the acting spectacle it was designed to be.  It’s a small film with big emotions that are subsumed by the complex characters that the two lead actors have created.  I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Rampling deserves her Oscar nod, but she is easily the reason to see this film if you had any remote interest whatsoever.

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