Film Review: Certain Women

 

Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is a series of character portraits, with some being more absorbing than others. When it connects, the film is engaging and stimulating.

Laura, a lawyer, must deal with a client who refuses to face reality. A husband and wife are building a new home in a remote location. A ranch hand forms a friendship with a lawyer who is teaching an adult education class…

Director Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is comprised of three stories that take place in Montana. There are loose threads that link these tales, but they function as three separate chapters. Reichardt offers character portraits of different women in the same state, at different times in their lives. The first and third sections are the most interesting. The middle chapter sags a little, with neither a compelling protagonist nor narrative.

The first chapter almost immediately reveals a female struggle. The film requests empathy for Laura, in the way her advice is heeded by her client (compared that of a male lawyer). The film moves beyond this to a portrait of an authentic protagonist, with a tense episode. Although the focus is on women in Reichart’s film, the male characters are given sufficient depth. The second chapter also feels natural, yet the activity here does not grip. Events unfold slowly, revealing detail about the couple at the centre. Yet, this chapter is the weakest of the three; it simply feels that not much is said here. The third chapter is wonderful for its depiction of a burgeoning adoration. The relationship between Elizabeth and the unnamed rancher is sweet, and leads to a tense climax. The beauty of Certain Women is its authentic characters.

Laura Dern delivers a solid performance as Laura. Michelle Williams is decent, but would have benefitted from a meatier role. Both Kirsten Stewart and Lily Gladstone are great in the final chapter. Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography captures the beauty of the landscape.

When it works, Certain Women is a beautifully rendered film. A stronger second chapter would have elevated the film immensely.

Film Review: Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea

Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea is rich with emotion and so finely executed that it lingers in the mind long after viewing.

After tragedy strikes, Lee is forced to travel to Manchester By The Sea to look after his nephew. Lee is a reluctant caregiver, as he feels closer to his past in the town…

Kenneth Lonergan exhibits a skilfulness in filmmaking and storytelling with the excellent Manchester By The Sea. The film is a masterclass in portraying grief. In spite of the bleakness of the subject matter, Lonergan’s film never becomes mawkish or melodramatic. Instead, it is taut, and subtle in conveying some harrowing incidents.

Writer-director Lonergan tells the story of a haunted man becoming the reluctant guardian of his nephew. The film is littered with flashbacks, which tells the story of Lee’s previous relationship with his nephew, with his brother, and with other members of his family. The film requires the audience to be patient in waiting for more details; these are revealed slowly and effectively. Lonergan’s eschews dropping these for shock value. Instead, these are careful placed, and more effective as a result.

Characters in Manchester By The Sea are so well drawn. Lee enters as a isolated, monosyllabic character. As more is revealed about his past, the reasons for his behaviour become clear. The story is not what some may expect from the film’s premise. What could have been an odd couple style comedy drama in different hands, is an exceptional drama in this case. Casey Affleck delivers an incredibly potent performance as Lee. Lucas Hedges is convincing as Patrick. Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler provides good support.

Kenneth Lonergan’s mastery is depicting darkness, but drawing this back every so often with naturalistic humour. Manchester By The Sea is a thoroughly convincing portrait of a broken man.

Manchester By The Sea is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

My Week with Marilyn Trailer

I cannot wait to see this. My anticipation is two-fold. On the one hand, I am intrigued to see how director Simon Curtis will render Colin Clark’s memoirs of his time with Marilyn Monroe for the silver screen. On the other, like many, I am curious to see Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. So many Hollywood actresses have attempted to replicate the icon in some form (for example, photo shoots by Nicole Kidman and Lindsay Lohan), it will be interesting to see how Michelle Williams does. My Week with Marilyn is out on 25th November 2011.