Film Review – 45 Years
If you are into quiet, subtle, brilliant film acting, you will be into the new film 45 Years. Thoughtful adult cinema about characters over a certain age is increasingly rare anymore. And especially allowing actors in their advanced years star in a film while giving them enough room to fully explore their relationship is even more so. Yet director Andrew Haigh has given us a nuanced slice of a well-worn advanced marriage.
Charlotte Rampling stars as Kate Mercer. She’s been married to Geoff (Tom Courtenay) for decades. The film takes place over the week leading up to their 45th anniversary celebration. They have settled into a comfortable retired life in the country with walking the dog daily and tending to household chores. Early in the week, Geoff receives a letter from the authorities in Germany. They have found the remains of his girlfriend from 50 years previous who had died in a hiking accident while they were young. This incident is part of the couple’s shared history, but the recovery of these remains acts like a small pebble dropped into their lives that sends ripples throughout their life together.
45 Years is a remarkable peek into an incredibly believable marriage. These characters feel very lived in and real. Courtenay as Geoff is just perfect. He dotters about just like older men that you actually know. He’s smart and still has some of his faculties about him. But he gets tired and cranky. He doesn’t necessarily like most people. But he also has a sparkle in his eye at times and can be kind. He just feels like the withering shell of a once vibrantly charming man. They allude to a heart attack that he had 5 years previous that cancelled their celebrations then. And when Kate is asked why they are celebrating 45 years together, aside from that anecdote you can sense the quite real possibility that he won’t make it to their 50th.
Charlotte Rampling just received an Academy Award Nomination for her role here and it is completely deserved. She is simply stunning in her subdued complexity. There are no soap operatic histrionics here, just real moments. She is the more aware and active half of this couple. Kate has settled into the role of caretaker. She isn’t angry or resentful about that, it just is what she does for the husband she loves. What does get to her is his obvious longing for a woman and a life that is increasingly on his mind. In a pivotal moment she declares to him that she always knew she was enough for him but she isn’t sure that he knows it.
It will be difficult for awards shows to pull out a moment for a quick acting highlight reel here because there is far more “being” than “acting” going on. 90% of 45 Years is just the two of them together. And watching these old British veterans is to witness a master class in movie acting. Film is about subtlety. The camera captures what people are thinking and feeling without needing to emote at the screen. That’s what is on display here; real characters that feel real and create real drama that is just as moving as anything you are likely to see. It’s a shame the release schedule of this thing drops it into this weird valley of bridging 2015 and 2016. Here in Seattle it’s likely to be one of the best you will see in 2016. However, a lot of critics in major markets put it on their best of 2015 lists. No matter which year you place it in your head it will likely be a subtle gem that you remember years from now.