45 Years (2015)
dir. Andrew Haigh
written by: Andrew Haigh
starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
4 out of 4 stars
Why can’t Andrew Haigh clone himself thricefold and release a continuous stream of brilliant material that I love? They can clone a sheep, but they can’t duplicate a talented writer and director who fulfills my desire to see realistic depictions of relationships on screen. Weekend is my top movie of 2011. Looking was a great show that ended too soon. Continuing his greatness, Haigh has written and directed 45 Years, a marital drama that produces nearly a half century later, people can still have their secrets.
Adapted from a short story by David Constantine, 45 Years follows Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) on the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary. Though struggles emerge like any couple, their long marriage has been mostly a happy one. An unexpected letter related to the discovery of Geoff’s deceased girlfriend reveals secrets held for almost half a century. I feel nothing else needs said; I don’t want to spoil a second of this sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, sometimes heart wrenching movie.
Both masters of their craft, Rampling and Courtenay have palpable chemistry. Courtenay, a legend of British cinema, twice Oscar nominated for Dr Zhivago and The Dresser, presents a stumbling man past his prime. Plagued by aging, he is in poor form at most times, and the weight of fifty years hangs off him, gravity pulling down more than wrinkles. For a man so conflicted and jilting, he attempts to muster through but is essentially thwarted by his own history. Battling his past, every moment he grows more and more downtrodden despite himself; history keeps sliding into his mind, and Courtenay is a marvel at his subtle transitions, appearing before one’s attention can be drawn to him. His pain is mildly tempered, but the strongest of men cannot hold it forever.
Rampling is at a career best high. Never a word out of place, never a step betraying Kate, Rampling runs the gamut, drifting through situation after situation, testing the view of her life spent with the man with whom she’s built her life. Cheerful, confident, sexy, and devastating, she pours her heart out on screen, drawing everyone into her magnificence. Toward the end of the movie, though I will just not spoil a thing, Rampling tears your heart out with her silence, each movement calculated in a pristine manner.
Andrew Haigh adds his distinct, natural style to this work. Harkening to his debut Weekend, his best scenes are often the least direct. Following the motions of married life, his silences speak volumes and the focus of a scene is often an aside to what one sees in the characters eyes. A real actor’s director, he brings out the subtext for his actors whether they be fresh, supremely sexy newcomers or seasoned veterans reminding the world of their immense talent. Writing a review of a movie so powerful and disarming, it’s hard not to shout about the portions that dropped my jaw, so I’ll let you find those bits out on your own. All I’ll say is watch out for that last scene; it’s a doozy.