MR. TURNER (2014)
(directed by Mike Leigh)
****+ (out of 5)
> Truly great British filmmaker Mike Leigh (VERA DRAKE, TOPSY-TURVY, ANOTHER YEAR and the divine SECRETS AND LIES) brings us a beautifully-appointed, rich and resonant portrait of great maritime and landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), anchored by the single best performance of remarkable character actor Timothy Spall’s considerable career.
. This is a low-key rumination, and it moves at the slower pace of the times it reflects, but the film is well-worthy of the audience’s patience, because its rewards are generous and satisfying. It’s a bit somber going at times, but it’s also rich with humor and warmth. As with the world of Charles Dickens, the characterizations dwell in some land beyond delightful, and command empathy. Aside from two or three recognizable actors, this film was full of unfamiliar faces, and each had its unique magic. Mr. Leigh is a master filmmaker, and he is running on all cylinders here. An astute observer of his countrymen, the man and his films are veddy, veddy British. No doubt I missed much of the humor that was anchored in subtle class conflicts and the like, but every character is clearly expressed and finely delineated to such a degree that they come to life on the screen- even the more flamboyant, broadly-drawn ones. The various British accents are very telling of each character’s place in the social order and every actor fully inhabits his part.
. Up for three Academy Awards next week, (Best Cinematography, Best Costuming and Best Original Score) MR. TURNER appears to have been robbed by three glaring omissions: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor nominations. (MR. TURNER beat the hell out of AMERICAN SNIPER, directing nods to FOXCATCHER and THE IMITATION GAME could, and should have been displaced by SELMA and MR. TURNER, and Timothy Spall gave a much superior performance to Bradley Cooper’s in AMERICAN SNIPER. As usual, in their misguided kneejerk “patriotism” the Academy voters got it wrong, wrong, wrong, honoring the wrong films.) The cinematography here was fabulous- especially in the stunning use of the natural light that was available in the era. The landscapes and interiors are stunning, the detail, breathtaking. One really feels transported to another era. (But BIRDMAN, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and especially IDA are all more deserving of the recognition.) THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the only film that gives the costuming a run for its money- and either could win. The score is lovely, but it’s very restrained, and not as lush and dazzling as the music for THE IMITATION GAME or THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. In short: MR. TURNER will be ripped-off by this year’s Oscars. Particularly egregious, is the exclusion of Timothy Spall’s unforgettable characterization of the eccentric Mr. Turner. It is a wonder to behold, and he is gripping in every scene, grunting and grumbling and barking and murmuring in a riveting, absolutely original performance.
. There was some ambiguity: Some things about the enigmatic man were shown, but not explained. Despite Mike Leigh’s sparkling script, peppered with wonderful dialogue, we never really get beneath this singular artist’s skin. (Why for instance, does he never identify himself as a painter when asked, but assume a false identity? And why does he ignore and neglect his children, not going to his own daughter’s funeral and even denying at one point, that he had any children? Never explained. (Perhaps history records these facts without recording the reasons and motivations behind them.) Nonetheless, this is a sumptuous feast from start to the beautiful, heartrending conclusion of Mr. Turner’s final prophetic words.
> Love the filmmaker! Love the actors! Loved the film.
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