REVIEW: “45 Years”

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With marriage you never get over the hump. Whether you’ve been together 5 years or 45, marriage always requires work and bad choices can have devestating effects. That’s just one thing I took away from Andrew Haigh’s subtly devastating “45 Years”.

The British drama, based on a David Constantine short story, spans a period of six days. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are days away from celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. Everything points to them being a happy couple but that is brought into question after Geoff receives a letter linked to something very personal from his past. It would be a disservice to give away anything about the letter. I knew nothing of it going in and my experience was richer for it.

I will say the effects of the letter slowly fester and their relationship struggles under the burden of it. Haigh (serving both as writer and director) is smart in his handling of things. He meticulously allows things to play out and patiently feeds us bits of revelation. Most importantly he never feels the need to be manipulative or the slightest bit conventional. Instead the stress is on developing a truly authentic relationship free of any traditional Hollywood prodding or sentimental fluff.

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A key reason he accomplishes this is because he shows a heavy dependence on his two leads. Rampling and Courtenay are a joy to watch. They are so perfectly in tune with the naturalistic flow of the script and there is never a question about their characters or their relationship. Like most couples they have their routines – walking the dog, listening to 60s music, book reading. But eventually the letter’s influence can be seen even in their daily rounds.

Rampling handles her character with a low-key steadiness. She conveys a hope and optimism that slowly becomes harder for her character to maintain. Every reaction and response she gives is rooted in unquestionable truth and the performance becomes more engrossing the further along we go. Rampling has so many potent moments where she reveals her character through her keen expressiveness.

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Courtenay gives us a much different character. The 79 year-old actor is playful and open early on but his performance shifts as the week progresses. More and more Geoff shuts himself off. He constantly seems distant, distracted, and is easily agitated. But Courtenay doesn’t give us a villain. He shows a sincere complexity within his character. He is a sweet-hearted man who genuinely doesn’t know how to handle his emotions.

Lingering in the background is a weekend party their friends have put together to honor their 45 years of marriage. In light of the letter, we begin to wonder how the party will go? Will Kate and Geoff even make it there? Each day as the party gets closer those questions have more meaning. We the audience watch and hope, but we don’t know how things will play out. That is what makes this quietly devastating.

Andrew Haigh deserves a lot of credit. At first it may seem his film isn’t doing much other than allowing good performers room to act. But slowly he unveils his true vision and meaning. Ultimately he gives us a fresh, authentic portrait of marriage while revealing the importance of honesty and openness. He doesn’t make lofty statements or give us clear-eyed answers. He makes subtle points, asks questions, then allows us to wrestle with them. It is a very smart and effective approach.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

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19 thoughts on “REVIEW: “45 Years”

  1. Completely agree – this is an excellent film and the two performances are well-worth watching (though I marginally enjoyed Rampling more). The use of music is impressive, too, I thought. And the final shot says so much; did it make you think of the last shot in Phoenix, by any chance?

    • Actually that is a brilliant comparison (to Phoenix). I actually didn’t think about it but there are a couple of striking similarities.

      We talk a lot about the frustration of release schedules. This and Son of Saul finally got here last week. So glad to see and finally write about both films.

      • It’s bizarre, really. There must be a good reason for the release dates being different. Son Of Saul isn’t out here until the end of April. Keen to see it!

      • The end of April? That is brutal. Posted a review yesterday. You definitely need to see it. I’ll never understand the rationale behind distribution.

  2. Great review! I enjoyed 45 Years much more than I thought I would. I won’t say too much in case someone reads this before watching the movie, but the ending really confused me until I actually listened to the lyrics properly. Then my heart kind of broke a little 😦
    – Allie

    • Thanks Allie! You’re so write about that ending. It’s subtle but crushing. And didn’t you love those two performances? They brought so much out of those characters.

  3. This is a film I really want to see. I loved Andrew Haigh’s Weekend and I also love Charlotte Rampling, who is among the few women of such elderly stature I would love to sleep with if I ever had the chance,. It’s been in a watchlist of films I had for more than a year since I heard about the project as I’m glad Rampling got an Oscar nod out of this.

    • Rampling definitely deserved that Oscar nod. She disappears into her character. And Haigh does so many subtle and clever things to build up his story. I think you’ll really like it.

  4. This is one of the few 4 major category nominees that eluded me. I don’t know if I have ever seen Charlotte Rampling in anything but the general consensus on this seems to be that she’s excellent in the role of a woman who feels betrayed. I’m bummed I missed this. Good review man

    • Thanks Tom. This and Son of Saul just finally opens near me last weekend. Took ridiculously long to get here. So glad I saw it though. I wouldn’t be surprised if it hits DVD within the next few weeks.

  5. Excellent review. What struck me about this film was how natural and realistic it was. The acting was amazing, particularly Charlotte Rampling who was so subtle and so powerful.

  6. Having recently seen this I’m putting it in the category of British Film of the Year. So subtle, restrained, beautifully open-ended; great performances too and nice to see a relationship drama that doesn’t involve two conventionally good-looking twentysomethings.

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