PVR Pictures/Reliance Home Video, Rs. 599
There are not that many films in which the adult father-son relationship is examined without wallowing into overt sentimentality or taking recourse to hand-holding cuteness. In this strangely moving movie by Mike Mills, the atmosphere veers towards the dark while retaining an absurdist, quietly light core. Ewan McGregor plays Oliver, the son of a man who, after the death of his wife when he was 75, comes out of the closet to, as he puts it, “not just be theoretically homosexual”. Christopher Plummer does a superb job as Hal, the stern husband-father who finally wishes to live his life to the full. Mills’ deft handling of the story from the perspective of Oliver — the film starts with Oliver clearing and picking up his father’s belongings (including his John Terrier dog) after the latter has died of cancer – makes Beginners glow with an intelligent warmth.
As we see Hal unfurl his life, literally resisting death till the end, we also follow Oliver and his journey to shake off his inability to form lasting relationships. The stunning Mélanie Laurent (the French actor whom English-speaking movie-watchers were introduced to in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) plays the actress Anna, who spends her life from hotel room to hotel room, whom Oliver meets in a party and falls in love with. It is a beginning of a relationship that is fraught with gaps, pauses and distancing that Oliver realises has its source in the way he related to his parents and his parents related to each other.
But it is Plummer’s role as an old man resisting death by being both in denial and desiring love and being a late-in-life friend, father and guide to his emotionally fragile son that is superb and absolutely deserving of the best supporting actor Oscar earlier this year.
All shades of grey
Reliance/Warner, Rs. 599
It’s not easy to frame 50 years in the working life of a complicated man who kept a tight lid on his secrets. It’s even more difficult if he had all of one friend and ensured that his private files were destroyed. And it’s near impossible to piece together such a patchy history into a film running more than two hours. But director Clint Eastwood, 82, has managed just that in J. Edgar.
John Edgar Hoover built and led the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for half a century, serving eight American presidents. During the time, he built a powerful and paranoid apparatus that, after a while, didn’t need a real threat such as the spectre of Communism — Hoover could invent one and dangle it to wangle even more powers for his office. He spied on the sex lives of presidents and their wives and then blackmailed them. He tried to shame Martin Luther King into rejecting his Nobel prize. In his private life, he stifled his own homosexual attraction towards his closest colleague because his ambitious mother wouldn’t stand it.
Leonardo DiCaprio assays this conflicted character with a spitting diction and dark flair, through a difficult narrative that swings between phases in Hoover’s early and late career. The makeup skill that allows DiCaprio to age so convincingly is shared by Naomi Watts, who plays his loyal secretary Helen Gandy. And Judy Dench as mother Annie is at her possessive best. A tight cast producing a surprisingly tight film.