Tag Archives: Rufus Sewell

Role Playing

The Father

by George Wolf

How much you’re moved by The Father will likely depend on how you see the central narrative device employed by director/co-writer Florian Zeller.

Is it a gimmick that cheapens the very subject he’s digging into, or is it an effective – even logical – new frame for a familiar picture?

Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman star as father and daughter Anthony and Anne. Now, with these Oscar winners as your leads, your device could be the mail-in offer from the back of a cereal box and it would most likely be riveting, but Zeller has more lofty ambitions.

Anthony’s memory is fading fast, forcing Anne to navigate his mood swings and growing combativeness while she looks for an in-home caregiver who can handle him. Young Laura (Imogen Poots) looks promising, but Anthony’s initial charm at their meeting gives way to insults and accusations about a plan to force him from his well-appointed flat.

But is it his flat? And who is the man in the living room (Mark Gatiss) who says he lives there?

Is Anne really planning to move to Paris with a new boyfriend, or is she still married to the impatient and angry Paul (Rufus Sewell)? And just who is that other woman who looks like Anne (Olivia Williams)? Zeller adapts his own stage play with a profound intimacy that feeds the intentional confusion.

In the last several years, movies such as Away From Her and Amour have mined their greatness through the effect of dementia on the longtime spouse of the afflicted.

But here, not only does Zeller make a sympathetic pivot to the adult child of an ailing parent, but his chamber piece finds its greatest resonance through the heartbreaking empathy that comes from giving us Anthony’s point of view.

And even if the whole affair does strike you as gimmicky, the transcendent heights hit by Hopkins and Colman (and indeed, the entire ensemble) make spending time with The Father more than worthwhile.

As artistic as it is nuanced, as lyrical as it is devastating, it’s a film with not only something to say, but a welcome new approach to saying it.

Born in a Trunk


by George Wolf

Call it a comeback, a re-introduction or a friendly reminder, but Renee Zellweger’s channeling of Judy Garland is an awards-worthy revelation.

Since winning an Oscar for Cold Mountain over fifteen years ago, Zellweger’s resume has been scattershot and curious enough to make seeing her name on top of the marquee a rather nostalgic blast from the past.

But here, she’s just a blast, bringing a can’t-look-away magnetism to every moment she’s on screen, and leaving a noticeable absence when she’s not.

Based on Peter Quilter’s stage play The End of the Rainbow, Judy shows us a legend struggling to get work and fighting to retain custody of her children. By the late 1960s, daughter Liza was off starting a career of her own, but Judy’s two young kids with producer Sid Luft needed a stable home that Garland could not provide.

Accepting a lucrative offer for a string of concerts in London, Judy leaves her son and daughter with their father in hopes that the British engagement will give her the resources needed to take them back full-time.

Focusing on this late, sad period in Garland’s life is a wise move by director Rupert Goold (True Story) and screenwriter Tom Edge (The Crown). A limited scope can usually provide biopics with a better chance for intimacy, and true to form, Judy’s false notes arrive with the flashbacks to Garland’s days as a child star.

Showcasing her mistreatment as a young cog in the MGM studio system is well-intentioned but unnecessary, the blunt forcefulness of this thread adding little more than jarring interruption.

Zellweger is all we need to feel the tragedy of Garland’s fall. Her portrayal comes fully formed, as both remarkable outward impersonation and a nuanced glimpse into a troubled soul. Nary a movement seems taken for granted by Zellweger, and her delivery of Edge’s memorable dialog is lush with an organic spontaneity.

And though she barely sang publicly before her training for Chicago, Zellweger again shows impressive vocal talent. Of course she can’t match the full richness of the real Judy (who could?), but Zellweger’s style and phrasing are on-point bullseyes, never shrinking from Goold’s extended takes and frequent closeups during some wonderfully vintage musical numbers.

In one of the film’s best moments, Judy joins two male superfans (Andy Nyman, Daniel Cerqueira) for a late night dinner at their apartment. I won’t spoil what happens, but have some tissues handy. It’s a beautifully subtle and truly touching ode to Garland’s status as an early gay icon, and to the universal pain of loneliness.

Ironically, this brilliant performance should bring Zellweger the second act that Judy didn’t live long enough to enjoy. I’m guessing she’ll appreciate it, and I know she’s earned it.