on 30 April 2011
On the whole, this is a quite good production of a lightly diverting screenplay which also has a good emotional appeal, deeper beyond what you might expect for the content. That's a virtue of the script in the everyday, yet kind of simplified, idealised characterisation anad writing which has attraction in elements of sympathy in life and perhaps small elements of simple, "normal", moral, caring steadfastness. The thing is that, let's face it, however small or simple the suggestive, vaguely moral ambit of the film may be, it's nearly unheard of in movies these days. These are the years of shiny, brainless magazine cover characters in palace-in-the-sky like empty romances, characters who exist only to be seen to look for or achieve wish fulfillment, or death, bombs, gunfire, destruction and criminals everywhere (or vampires!). For that reason, in today's climate, it stands out - the simple here has a reaching appeal. That was the calculation.
The screenplay intentionally is no piece of literary fiction. It is mildly, nicely diverting on the face of it, and is attractive for that, until closer to the end when an impact of emotional and endearing seriousness hits.
However, the screenplay seems to me to call for a different rendition than that chosen and produced in this movie. There is interest in the screenplay - not so much - but I saw the kind of special interest that really great film making could take in the producing of a wonderful, appropriate piece of movie craft. The thing is that I don't feel that the producers made the right decisions in making. The screenplay, on the whole, would ideally suit a more serious playing, something like the character of The Ice Storm or ....
I was thinking this is only a reasonable making of the screenplay, a peculiarly cinematic play. The director did see that I think, but made lacking choices. I think this filming of the screenplay is in a different world to where it ought to be, where it deserves to be because there is where its home ought to be. And if the script were grasped and filmed with the vision it could merit, probably only in one or two ways, the screenplay would easily, clearly lend itself to being a vehicle for great, challenging film-making. Again, the screenplay itself is not great but a great director and team could make a pretty great film from it.
Reading the back of the DVD cover, the film's called a comedy, it seems by the studio, when it isn't really a comedy. Also the theatrical trailer (included) chooses excerpts to suggest a comedy. While there are faintly, likably humorous elements, the over-riding movie character is down to earth and contemplative seriousness with an intriguing emotional impact from such a simple plot idea. ****ONE-OFF SPOILER - skip to next paragraph to miss**** It's closer to Shakespearean tragedy than comedy, with the father dying near the end and the only marriage being the hero's wife with someone else, making him very depressed.****
If you want laugh out loud parts, which can be an element of any type of film anyway, you might find them only twice or so in the film from some of Michael Caine's character's lines. But the lines, in Caine's deliverance which I really liked, are more provocatively serious and amusing. And taking the sideline of the quietish, nice, dual-edged, blackish yet whitish humour in the script and calling the whole thing a comedy because of it misses the point of the screenplay - the rest is a serious drama.
While the film doesn't actually seem to me to go the way of comedy at all - the description on the DVD cover is actually at odds with how the film was shot - the description being given at all suggests more that the approach isn't most appropriate for the screenplay, not what it deserved. I can clearly see and feel really a lot of good film making went into this, and the reward is there, but, yet, still, to me it's still a let down. This is because the world the screenplay should occupy was not envisioned, was only touched upon or more lightly esteemed when it needed to be absolute.
The biggest and most obvious element in this is the mis-casting of Nicolas Cage in the lead role. Now, actually Cage acts OK in this film, so to my mind that means he is at least a little better than usual. (Not that I've paid too much attention to Nicolas Cage as an actor, I do though remember his stand out films are few and far between.) Although as an actor he seems to do reasonably well actually, he's just not an appropriate choice for this screenplay. To me, he stands in the way of letting the serious, diverting, reasonably interesting and quite intriguing script, with a thoughtful, elegaic character, be what it ought to be. I was wondering if the "comedy" description came about because of the screen presence of Nicolas Cage. He just isn't right for the serious role. Which is not his fault, he does pretty well, he's just a different actor, to me a different presence to what should be there.
Anyway, some strange beings hammered Mr Cage into that role, the decisions of some beings can be beyond what you'd appreciate. And, well, it's quite a nice film in the end, just to me disappointing in a number of ways that the script wasn't rendered as I feel it would best deserve.
Putting that disappointment aside, there is loving and rewarding shooting - nice cinematography of urban landscapes, snow covered beach scenes and the effecting, atmospheric wintry studies of the countryside shooting range area. More than that, the editing, in every piece of the storyboard decisions, is kind of perfect, while also the pacing is nicely judged for giving the audience time to identify the story, with the simple, touching notions of life from that simple story, and the slight suggestions it throws up. It's no deep screenplay, but there are slightly nice elements, allowing the film to possess a quite lovely reflective character.
The acting is usually better than OK, the actors do quite well to better than that. The young actors can easily come across as quietly excellent. I thought Michael Caine appeared brilliant, kind of intentionally lame, kind of hilarious. Caine's acting came across as mocking of being wise and serious yet still overridingly wise and serious, in playing his strange, part post-modern wooden character out of some imaginary play that chose never to mature much in development. He showed his part as a part mock character, and managing extraordinarily also to be a very sympathetic character. He gives the notion of an intentionally incomplete, fractional or perhaps retarded role, rather than person, which kind of doesn't inhabit a serious play because the stoogee-like, wooden character couldn't - the part isn't full enough to. He sees that as obvious and plays it really very well indeed. Yet also, Caine effortlessly shows that, in the fractional identity of the character, it also does inhabit the movie and does so seriously. As any person's life is not just serious, but most serious. And he seems to do it all while himself both taking the whole thing seriously, yet also not taking it too seriously. Magic.
So I have to say there is a lot of good and some amount of pretty lovely, cherishable film making in here. But, again, that in concept a potentially really good piece of movie making is happy to be sold short is an annoying thing. The screenplay itself is a being that could never claim to be wonderful or even really good in itself, yet to me really appears to be crying out to be made into a pretty wonderful piece of serious film making. This movie just isn't that, is my disappointment, it's another world to where I feel the screenplay should live.
It's OK, quite nice, and, otherwise, I've made my gripe very clear. The biggest consolation is that Michael Caine's ambivalent performance in this movie easily would occupy that world I wished for of a wonderful film for the just OK and interesting, emotionally quite fetching script.