Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie with Abe: Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner
Directed by Mike Leigh
Released December 19, 2014

Though the truly famous ones existed long before film did as a medium, it’s hard to deny that painters often lived quite interesting lives. They create works of art that will live on long after they do, and, most of the time, achieve much greater success after death than in life. British painter J.M.W. Turner is a terrific example of this, appreciated but relentlessly mocked in his time for a style as peculiar and difficult to analyze as he was as a person.

Director Mike Leigh, known for his improvised scripts and his dedication to his subject matter, is an intriguing choice to capture Turner’s life on screen. Leigh’s last two films – “Another Year” and “Happy-Go-Lucky,” have been relatively modern looks at everyday people and their interactions with one another. His previous film, which earned him serious Oscar attention, was “Vera Drake,” which followed Imelda Staunton’s British abortionist in her quest to “help young girls out” in 1950s England. His latest project feels a lot more like that film, as Leigh finds himself and his characters firmly rooted in the past, the 1800s to be specific. As usual, Leigh devotes himself to creating an authentic and believable environment populated with characters whose realistic and human conversations define the experience.

Timothy Spall stars as Turner, who retreats from society more than he already has following the death of his father. He spends most of his time at home working with loyal caretaker Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) by his side, and takes long vacations under a pseudonym to a small inn on the water run by the kindly Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey). Turner hears what those around him say about his energetic and distinctive way of painting, one which earns as much insulting scorn as it does praise. One particularly affecting scene finds Turner in the audience at a play where he is the butt of its main joke.

Spall is an actor who is not often cast in the lead role, and, as presented by Leigh, here he finds a role perfectly suited for him, defining Turner by grunts and long looks mixed with sparse and only truly vital conversation. Turner is not an inviting character but his story certainly impresses. Atkinson and Bailey both enhance a film about a man with few connections as two of those only ties to the rest of society. The film’s lengthy 150-runtime means that it isn’t always completely engaging, though it does cover a considerably amount of time and ground. Ultimately, Turner’s impact is felt most by the end of the film as his life approaches its end, and this intriguing, often melancholy story demonstrates how, as expected, Turner achieved far more success in death than in life.


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