Speaking of twenty years back, as I did in my last post – the actor Al Pacino was 55 years old in 1995. Helen Mirren was 50. Judy Dench was 61, Maggie Smith was 61, and Richard Gere was the youngest of this group. Twenty years back, he was just 46 years old.
I mention these five because in the last six weeks I’ve seen all of these folks in films. Pacino has appeared in two films that I’ve seen within this period. So the question I’m asking now – concerning actors and actresses is – do they get better as they get older?
On March 10th, I was scheduled to fly from Orlando, Florida to Oslo, Norway. The flight was basically a red-eye, or overnight flight, and not wishing to drive too much at night, I got to Orlando in time to take in a late afternoon movie before heading for the airport.
The film I saw that night, and will be one of the three films I’ll review in this post, was The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,=. This film was a sequel to the popularly received The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which came out in 2011. Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Richard Gere were the headliners in the sequel as was Dev Patel. By the way, in 1995, Patel was just 5 years old and a school child in Harrow, London, England.
While I won’t say that the sequel (I’ll call it 2nd Best Exotic for short) was a failure, it wasn’t – for sure it was less of an artistic success than the original. Dench, Smith, and Gere were marvelous as was Bill Nighy. But the film has to take 2nd place behind the original because of the way Dev Patel’s role was written.
To be fair, Patel played the role with a lot of zest. It was as if he relished playing a character who had previously been a sweet kid, a hotelier who was a hard-working and striving young man who got his hotel to go from a near derelict ruin to a successful venture in the original. But in this, the sequel, he changed into an obnoxious lout who was also rude and indifferent to any thing except his own goals which was to expand by adding a second hotel.
At least that’s how he began the film. He had changed by film’s end – but that was to be expected. Still the film was not without many pleasures. Like being in exotic Jaipur. Like watching a bunch of old timers feel rejuvenated and = how shall I say this – horny.
Basically Director John Madden did some fine work in this film, but he was saddled by Ol Parker’s screenplay. Parker wrote the original as well, but here, he will bear the brunt of the criticisms the film has earned. It was a tad repetitive, a tad over-the-top, and actually lacked what I’ll call finesse.
But there was no second guessing about the elder cast members. Dench was lovely, Maggie Smith was, as expected – sharp and witty without being insufferable, and Gere was still a ‘leading man’ type; one who would grab the attention of the ladies as soon as he entered the room.
The second film in this triple review starred Helen Mirren. The film was called Woman In Gold, a reference to the world-famous painting by Gustav Klimt.
The painting was called Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, or Lady in Gold. The painting was commissioned by Adele’s husband, and it took Klimt three years to finish the painting.
This Adele was in fact a real person and history tells us that she was the only woman who Gustav Klimt painted twice.
The film, based upon real events is the story of Maria Altmann. She was the niece of her Aunt Adele, the woman in the painting. As Altmann would say,
People see a masterpiece by one of Austria’s finest artists, but I see a picture of my aunt, a woman who used to talk to me about life…
Lady in Gold hung in the family home until the Nazis simply walked in and took it during their occupation of the Austrian capital Vienna in WWII, an event known as the 1938 Anschluss. or the Annexation of Austria. Soon after, a newly married Maria Altmann fled Vienna. Sixty years later, an elderly woman, living in Los Angeles, the very same Maria Altmann, along with her young but eager lawyer, took the Austrian government to court to win back what was rightfully the property of the Adele Block-Bauer’s heirs.
Helen Mirren stars as the older Altmann and carries the film. The younger Altmann is portrayed by Tatiana Maslany, currently starring in the hit TV series Orphan Black. Ryan Reynolds plays the young LA attorney Randol Schoenberg, and Daniel Bruhl plays an Austrian journalist who helps Maria in Vienna in the modern period of the film.
With a screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell, and directed by Simon Curtis, the film is both about the older Maria’s attempts to gain possession of the painting, as well as her story as a young bride in Vienna, who is forced to give up her family, friends, and possessions to flee Vienna.
Mirren is marvelous as the older woman. She’s aristocratic, tough, stern, and at her core, she has a steely resolve. But she’s also a soft-hearted and a lively woman capable of laughter and jokes. At one point, she tells an Austrian official – We didn’t come here to eat cake!
Only about The Woman in Gold, there is no joking whatsoever. Since the painting , considered to be Austria’s Mona Lisa, has been hanging in the Austrian museum called The Belvedere for many years, the Austrians were not about to relinquish what was for them a national treasure.
While the dramatic impact of the film is somewhat blunted by the fact that the outcome is known, you have to find your pleasure in Mirren’s acting as well as the manipulative script. Yes, it is the good guys – Maria Altmann, the lawyer Randy Schoenberg, and the journalist against the formidably arrayed forces of the Austrian government.
Yes, the film touches upon the Nazis, the Holocaust, and has a not so subtle jab at the Austrians, both in the present as well as the past. Yes, it is familiar territory. But the film will capture your heart, your mind, and your attention. I’m calling it well worth your time.
The last film in this triple review stars Al Pacino as the aging musical icon, Danny Collins He’s still popular even though he plays in smaller venues. But his fans, who have aged along with Danny, still clamor for his most famous song, Hey Baby Doll, a song he wrote 40 years ago.
This fictional Danny Collins compares to the real life Neal Diamond, who wrote the song Sweet Caroline all the way back in 1969. But the film isn’t as much about the music as it is about family, personal growth, and coming to grips with aging.
As the film opens Danny is struggling with aging, drugs, a far younger fiance who cheats on him, and the fact that he hasn’t written a new song in thirty years. He’s not quite a burned out wreck, but he’s much closer to that than the opposite. His g/f throws a surprise party for him, and his long time manager and confidante, played by Christopher Plummer, gives him an unexpected birthday gift – a letter to Danny Collins written by John Lennon.
As a young and up and coming musician, Collins had been interviewed by Chime Magazine. John Lennon had read the piece and written a letter to Danny, care of the magazine. The unscrupulous editor never forwarded the letter to Danny. So he never got it. Meanwhile, this editor eventually sold the letter to a collector. Somehow, all these years later, Collins’s intrepid manager had managed to find the letter and had purchased it as a surprise birthday gift.
Collins could only react with a stunned expression. He would later say something to the effect about how he wondered how his life might have turned out if he had received that letter back in 1971.
Somehow Collins gets the message – even 40 years later. He cancels his tour – jets off to New Jersey and books a room at a suburban Hilton Hotel for an indefinite period. He tries to get chummy with the hotel manager, and he has a piano delivered to his room. Songs are written.
One thing left to do – make peace with his illegitimate now adult son who has never met his father, meet his daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. Of course none of this will come easy.
Pacino low keys his role, only occasionally trotting out some of his actor’s flourishes. He comes off as believable, sincere, and you want to root for him. Supported rather efficiently by Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Garner as his son’s wife, and Annette Bening as the hotel manager – and spectacularly by Bobby Cannavale as the son – the film goes down easily as well as predictably.
But its predictability turns into an asset, leaving everyone pleased rather than disheartened. You might see an Oscar nom for Cannavale, and the Lennon songs that populate the soundtrack help make this film a crowd-pleaser.
So do actors get better as the grow older? Based on these films, I’d have to say yes. While none of these films will ever be called great, calling the Pacino, Dench, Smith, Gere, and Mirren performances anything less than great would be unpardonable.