Take a Drink: for exceedingly polite insults
Take a Drink: for each Turner painting we see
Take a Drink: whenever Turner loses his temper
Take a Drink: whenever he spits
Take a Drink: for every sob story we hear
Do a Shot: when Turner treats a woman like a piece of meat
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
While Oscar and critics love them some Mike Leigh, I’ve never been terribly impressed. His actor workshopping technique, during which he basically builds his screenplays and his actors’ approaches hand in hand with them, undoubtedly results in compelling performances. However, his films usually show a nasty undercurrent of contempt for his characters. They’re absurd and lacking in dignity like we all are deep down, but Leigh seems to exhort us to laugh at them, not with them.
Haha, what a trainwreck!
Mr. Turner is his latest film to debut to great critical acclaim and likely Oscar love. It documents a few decades in the life of famed British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall), perhaps the most talented artist of his era and a great influence on the Impressionists who followed him.
Well, color me impressed. I entered into the film wary from previous Mike Leigh experiences, and left chewing over a far more complex, humanistic experience than I was anticipating. There was an incredibly nuanced emotion at play, at least among the primary players, that made them feel identifiable even when they were being fitfully terrible to each other.
Mr. Turner unfolds in an episodic nature spanning what must be decades, lulling you and drawing you in to the comedy and tragedy of its characters’ lives. The dialogue has an amusingly playful, verbose quality (your vocabulary will definitely get a workout), whether used for wit or vitriol, and for much of the film I was convinced I was watching a comedy, and a quite funny one at that. The script transitions beautifully into the drama of these characters’ twilight years, however, touching on aging and death with great subtlety.
The acting is across the board excellent, displaying a range of the human condition; humility and hypocrisy, selfishness and selflessness, childishness and maturity, soaring art and failures of character. Spall embodies most of the negative half of these dichotomies, except for the last. He’s a gruff, grunty, egotistical, and at times heartless man, but one capable of great emotion, often only seen in the brushstrokes he puts to canvas. Also, a special shout-out to Jamie Thomas King, whose rich and prissy, self-styled, self-satisfied aesthete is an achievement in punchability.
This is true character he’s playing. Don’t your fingers just itch?
The most stand-out, practically awards-demanding piece of the production, though, is DP Dick Pope’s cinematography. His and Leigh’s goal was clearly to emulate Turner’s paintings in film form, and good goddam do they ever succeed. Pope uses light, color, and shadow like, well, a painter, delivering a veritable procession of stunning living compositions. Forget Interstellar, you must watch this one on as big of a screen as you can.
This film’s imperfections are many, which makes its strengths appear all the stronger. There’s still a hint of that disdain for his characters that I mentioned before, but an uncharacteristic empathy that balances it. Hints of melodrama (especially a death scene right out of Shakespeare) also hamper realism here and there, and some of the ceaseless bloviating that makes up most of the dialogue for good and ill starts to feel more like the latter. Also, it’s in English, but subtitles are still heavily recommended.
Light a candle for the vowels tortured in this movie.
Mr. Turner is painterly both in imagery and emotion, a biopic that brings both an artist and an era to strikingly realistic life.