UK Release Date: 28th September 2018
Runtime: 100 minutes
Director: Björn Runge
Writer: Jane Anderson
Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons, Annie Starke, Harry Lloyd, Alix Wilton Regan
Synopsis: A huge family secret casts an imposing shadow over a week in Europe during which the family’s patriarch is due to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It doesn’t necessarily matter how good The Wife actually is. In a few months’ time, it’s incredibly likely that the movie’s reputation will be sealed as ‘The One Glenn Close Won an Oscar For’. It seems remarkable that one of Hollywood’s most beloved and recognisable actresses has never been handed the industry’s highest accolade, but she is already being positioned as this year’s Leonardo DiCaprio. The Oscars are all about narrative, and the narrative is entirely in her favour.
Close and Leo differ, however, in their approaches to these films. DiCaprio went all-out with a showy, animal-munching, blood-soaked turn in The Revenant, whereas The Wife is a much quieter affair. It’s focused around Close’s Joan and her literary giant husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce). He’s about to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and, although Joan is happy for her spouse, there’s something clearly rumbling beneath the furtive glances the couple frequently exchange. Joe’s slimy wannabe biographer (Christian Slater) is keen to do some digging to work out why Joan seems so standoffish.
The plot mechanics here hide in plain sight to the extent that it’s far from rocket science to work out the big family secret. However, it would be wrong to suggest that director Björn Runge and writer Jane Anderson are attempting to craft a twisty thriller. For the most part, this is a movie that focuses on its characters and its performances. Close is terrific while saying very little, with Runge’s camera often holding tight in close-up on her face as Pryce’s gregarious scribe delivers a slightly pompous speech to adoring acolytes around him.
Close’s character is a mediator, whose words shore up conflict between the prickly arrogance of Joe and the idealism of their son David (Max Irons). The camera, though, betrays her real thoughts and Close conveys every shade of meaning in every facial expression that crosses her character’s face. It’s a performance of marvellous control and intensity that deserves to be given all of the credit and plaudits it will inevitably receive when awards season kicks into gear.
But the problem is that the film around it is largely tedious nonsense. Pryce is solid and Slater’s intriguing journalist has some memorable moments, but there isn’t a shred of surprise to be found. The central conflict is telegraphed from the first minutes, but Runge drags it out for over an hour, delving into the past for unnecessary and dull flashbacks in which Annie Starke and Harry Lloyd portray the couple in their younger days. The Wife constantly saps itself of momentum with every page it turns, leading to an on-the-nose finale that ends things with a dismal whimper.
Pop or Poop?
One excellent performance is not enough to rescue a poorly executed story in The Wife, which seems destined to win glory for Glenn Close, even if it fails to cover itself in any of that glory. Close is terrific, but the blindingly obvious plot and soapy tone does the movie absolutely no favours.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.