Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mr. Turner (2014)

8/10 - One of the most beautifully filmed movies I’ve seen in a while and a thoughtful, searching portrayal of the artist J.M.W. Turner, thankfully free of the usual clichéd tropes of the Hollywood biopic. It also felt like the longest, slowest film I’ve seen in a long time, and after two and a half hours, I was grateful when it was over. I don’t recommend seeing this if you’re tired. But I wake up this morning realizing what a special film it was and how much I would like to experience it again on a big screen, to luxuriate in that lush, slow-moving world. Cinematographer Dick Pope has done a tremendous job of creating a film that looks and feels like a Turner painting at times yet also remains clearly and precisely etched when depicting the ordinary aspects of the artist’s life or his process of creating those amazing paintings. Pope's work on Mr. Turner has garnered him nominations from 12 different organizations and festivals, including an Oscar bid and a win at Cannes. Timothy Spall has also received numerous nominations and wins for his wonderful portrayal of Turner, though not from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which is too bad. Spall’s work inhabiting a complex, difficult man and making him feel so vividly real and human seems at another level compared to some of the Oscar nominees. He spent two years learning how to paint for this role and did intensive biographical and historical research, along with director Mike Leigh, to flesh out this character who was the son of a middle-class barber who rose to great fame as an artist only to endure misunderstanding and ridicule towards the end of his life as his works became less representational and closer to what would later be called Impressionism. Leigh abandons the normal narrative structure of a biographical film, which means there’s not much “drama” in the movie, but he gives us something much richer instead – long, unhurried stretches with an artist at work, in the quotidian moments of his life, or having to deal with ridiculous social conveniences of Victorian England, such as an interminable discussion of gooseberries between critic John Ruskin, his parents, and several artists. As Andrew O’Hehir said in his review of the film, “Viewers expecting a Harvey Weinstein-style period drama, or who go in consciously or unconsciously yearning for a three-act structure, are likely to find themselves bored and frustrated…. This is a richly detailed, wrenching and often upsetting story about a man who may not have been especially satisfying to others as a human being, but who spent every day reaching for the ineffable and ungraspable meanings behind observable events – or at least trying to see them, which may come to the same thing.” All I know is that I wake up today wishing I lived near the Tate Gallery, so I could go see Turner’s work. I’ll have to make do with a book from the library, I suppose.

No comments: