The Wife

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Wife

Let’s look first at those responsible for The Wife because every one of them contributes to making this movie the winner that it is. Bjorn Runge directs the script written by Jane Auden from the novel by Meg Wolitzer. Music, filming, script, and performances form a single admirable whole.

Glenn Close creates a superb portrait of Joan Castleman while Jonathan Pryce delivers her husband Joe Castleman with his many strengths and weaknesses. It would have been so easy to make him a straightforward bad guy and that doesn’t happen. He is a man of the 1950s. Annie Stark creates the young Joan and Max Irons is their son Joe, an aspiring writer cringing under the fame and shallow nature of his father.

As we meet Joan and Joe, a phone call announces that Joe has just won the Nobel prize for his most recent book. As they prepare for the victory trip to Sweden, we see that Joan has taken care of him for years – pills, glasses, keys, careful oversight. When they arrive, all attention is showered on Nobel winner Joe while people take obligatory care of Joan who carries her husband’s hat and pills and is told by Nobel assistants, “We can arrange for shopping and beauty treatments.” In this celebration of her husband, neither she nor their son Joe exists.

Flashbacks introduce us to young Joan (Annie Stark) who writes a fine story that is published. In the manner of the ‘50s, she stops writing when she marries in order to be the housewife who forgets nothing. The prevailing culture treats Joe as the successful author and Joan as the non-existent woman. In the era when all decisions were made by men, Joan was a writer who didn’t count. Jump to the Nobel Prize ceremonies decades later and watch Joan, with icy control, hide her anger and resentment.

As the movie winds up to full power, we in the audience are caught in the skill of the moviemakers. The anger – how will this story end? In the hands of this cast, it will end powerfully and disturbingly as a comment on its times. The creation of those times, of the ‘50s, is accurate and disturbing to watch from 2018.

Once again though, the huge power of it comes from mastery in every aspect of the writing, delivery, and acting. Annie Stark as young Joan and Max Irons as son Joe hit us hard with a deep understanding of the rippling effects of fame. Jonathan Pryce is stunning as a man wrapped in the trappings of male accomplishment and cultural worship. Glen Close silences us in awe with a performance that is delivered for the most part through changes of expression that are subtle, quiet and thoroughly deep. The movie touches the various commands of the prevailing culture. As Joan suffers the isolation of a highly intelligent woman followed by implosion and then explosion, the theater is absolutely silent, stunned by Glen Close’s performance.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: The Wife
Word Count: 494
Running Time: 1:40
Rating: R
Date: September 9, 2018

This review was posted on September 9, 2018, in Drama.

Operation Finale

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Operation Finale

Operation Finale raises tough questions about the filming of genuine tragedies. This would be a fine movie if it were fiction, but the Holocaust is a subject that doesn’t lend itself to fiction. To fictionalize the gassing of six million men, women, and children is to tinker with history and it just doesn’t work. What does work is the production of repeated documentaries that keep the tragedy alive throughout the present and future as a lesson never to be forgotten.

Throughout the movie, actual pictures are used sparingly, but when one is shown, it hits like a rock and makes the fictional screen shots feel almost silly. And yet that’s not a fair thing to say because the movie is a good one and the cast works hard and well. Let’s talk about that for a minute. Director Chris Weitz has filmed Matthew Orton’s script as the story of the disappearance, capture, and hanging of Adolf Eichmann.

Eichmann managed to disappear successfully while other German war criminals were caught and brought to trial. He managed to live for sixteen years in anonymity in Argentina until he was identified and caught by Israeli Mossad agents who disguised him and snuck him past the protective Argentinians. His 1961 trial in Israel became the public focus of its time. He was tried and hung for directing the gassing of six million people.

Actor Oscar Isaac creates Mossad agent Peter Malkin who becomes the leader of the group that flies to Argentina after Malkin finds proof of Eichmann’s existence in Buenos Aries. Melanie Laurent is effectively reserved in a key role. Ben Kingsley’s creation of Eichmann is fascinating, but there comes the problem. As we watch his fine performance the questions begin: Was that what Eichmann was like? Were both these performances accurate? The whole cast is excellent. What’s wrong is the fictionalizing of one of the most hideous happenings in history.

The problem in this movie is that every now and then the filmmakers inject a twist to spark our interest and it feels as if someone is slamming on the brakes. Anything upbeat in this story, we all know, is tampering with reality. It just doesn’t work. Even though Ben Kingsley creates a fine monster, it isn’t Adolf Eichmann. After seeing this movie, won’t we always think of the real characters as the actors who portrayed them? We need to remember them as they were.

Every year that passes produces more sophisticated tools for research and filming of historic events. No event is more demanding of non-fiction treatment than the deliberate gassing of six million human beings. Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Israel was broadcast widely on television as it then existed. We stared deeply at a man trying to cover his own evil by being bland and blaming others. We need filmmakers with their new tools to explore that tragedy by using all the available letters, chronicles, films, photographs, and diaries. That is the reality the world needs to remember.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Operation Finale
Word Count: 498
Running Time: 2:06
Rating: PG-13
Date: September 2, 2018