Directed by Dan Mirvish
Released June 21, 2013
Marriage is a very frequent film subject. Almost every one of Woody Allen’s movies deals with adultery on some scale, and recent films such as Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” have dealt specifically with two couples and the way in which they interact over an isolated period of time. Like Polanski’s film, “Between Us” is an adaptation of a Broadway play. Though this cinematic retelling has its strengths, it ultimately feels very much like a play, with its characters engaged in brutally honest discussions with each other that might be more compelling if seen live on the stage.
“Between Us” splits its screen time between two different nights in which the film’s protagonist pairs, Grace (Julia Stiles) and Carlo (Taye Diggs), and Sharyl (Melissa George) and Joel (David Harbour), find themselves together. On one night, Grace and Carlo come to visit Sharyl and Joel on the way to their honeymoon, and on the other, Sharyl and Joel stop by unexpectedly to surprise Grace and Carlo. On both nights, the hosting partners are involved in an excruciatingly miserable and awkward fight, which reveals extreme problems hidden beneath the façade of their happy marriage, and which lead to the unraveling of the other more outwardly stable relationship.
Where this film succeeds most is in its ability to let the conversation guide the story and the close-ups on the faces of its characters. Every look on Grace and Sharyl’s face says just as much as anything that Carlo and Joel might say, though the impact of their words should not be underestimated. Disjointed editing and a melodramatic score give the film a disconnected feel, which helps to underscore the gravity of the situation yet doesn’t fully succeed in reeling in the viewer. Much is showcased but little is actually confirmed, which makes this a brief, haunting look into the lives of these couples without a definitive or satisfying resolution.
Each member of the cast brings with him or her a particular demeanor which helps to create and embellish the characters. Stiles is quiet yet assertive, George is cold and judgmental with her every look, Diggs is disarmingly casual, and Harbour is deceptively energetic and transparent. Harbour is the inarguable standout, stepping out from the supporting cast of “The Newsroom” to deliver a commanding and impressive performance as a man fully shaped by his situation. Together, these four create a captivating and unnerving environment, one that draws in the viewer but refuses to provide a certain fate for its characters, instead trapping them forever between these two miserable nights.