Sunday, December 7, 2014

Solar Deity

Mr. Turner (2014) - Leigh
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I think the last Mike Leigh movie I saw was Career Girls. I haven't seen his period pieces or biographies. But are they this lackluster? The subject here is J.M.W. Turner, the best known English painter whose almost abstract seascape paintings are the country's biggest treasures. A barber (played wonderfully by Paul Jesson)'s son, Turner (a Leigh regular and great character actor Tim Spall) is obsessive, gregarious painter who is constantly traveling to capture the ever luminous sunlight. For two and a half hours, we follow Turner as he goes back and forth from his London studio to a seaside town, him conversing with the snobby London painters' society, to his death. But Mr. Turner is too subtle to be about anything. He was a fervent abolitionist- where is the fire? He is played by Tim Spall, who's not a good looking man- where is the ramification for his hideousness? His long suffering maid- where does she fit in? Even though he enjoyed relative wealth and fame, he suffered public ridicule for his increasingly abstract work- where is his struggles with this notion? Struggle is precisely what's missing from this film. It's too subdued and too safe. I understand that Leigh is trying to show that Turner was an ordinary man. But he wasn't. There has to be some kind of spark in him to be regarded as the Rembrandt of England.

Shot by Leigh regular Dick Pope, the film showcases beautiful palettes. Turner's primary color, that of the sun, yellow is everywhere. Gary Yershon's score is also beautiful and delicate. Tim Spall grunts his way through Turner's not so eventful life. But watching Mr. Turner is a struggle and a half.