Away From Her and CrankMonday, July 2nd, 2007 8:20 pm—Film
Away From Her (Canada 2006, Drama/Romance), Writer/Director: Sarah Polley
Crank (USA 2006, Action/Thriller), Writer/Directors: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
I’ve been meaning to write a post about Sarah Polley’s feature directorial debut, Away From Her, since seeing it several weeks ago. Adapted by Polley from Alice Munro’s short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain, the film tells the tale of Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona (Julie Christie), a couple who have been married for 50 years and are trying to face the fact that Fiona suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
I was expecting more, but that’s largely a reflection on the high standard Polley has set in her other work and the insanely positive reviews I read, rather than a reflection on her achievement with Away From Her. There was so much hype about the film that I came in expecting a flawless work that would leave me weeping in the aisles. But despite reviews that made reference to choked sobs coming from the audience throughout the entire film, there was only one moment when I felt completely overcome with heartache—the kind of sadness that grips your throat and chest and instantly brings tears to your eyes.
That said, that one moment holds more power and raw feeling than most movies generate as a whole. It takes place early in the film, when Grant first leaves his ailing wife at Meadowlake, a retirement home for Alzheimer’s patients. He brought Fiona to Meadowlake at her insistence; he would rather keep her with him. (As he says, “I never wanted to be away from her.”)
After arriving in her new room, Fiona tells Grant she wants him to make love to her and then leave her. (“If you make it hard for me,” she says, “I may cry so hard I’ll never stop.”) They lie together spooning in silence after sex. It’s a position you imagine they’ve been in countless times before, completely at ease, trusting in one another’s love and acceptance. They don’t even have to look at each other to know what the other is thinking.
And then she says it: “Go now.”
Fiona’s memory has been fading, and she is less and less the woman Grant has known and loved for the past 50 years. They both know that when he gets up, they will never be the same again—either as individuals, or as a couple.
Grant lies there in stillness, not going. As if he’s willing that moment to be frozen in time. You wonder if he even wants time to exist beyond that moment. Pulling away from her then would mean leaving his wife in every way that he has come to understand. In essence, she will die the moment he leaves their embrace.
But eventually, he does. You see Grant fighting everything in his body that tells him to hold on to her and never let her go. He does it with such stillness and restraint, but you can feel the pain that wracks his core.
Polley employs that same restraint as a director. She lets the camera linger on the couple, allowing the heart-wrenching tension to sink in with the viewer. It shows a lot of confidence on her part, to cast away the quick cuts and other gimmicks used in most films that try to deliver a jolt every three seconds. Instead, Polley relies on her formidable actors to capture one of the most poignant film moments I’ve ever seen. Two people lying still in bed, barely saying a word. It speaks volumes.
Polley got off to a great start by committing her friend Julie Christie to the cast. I can’t say enough good things about Christie. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is one of my favourite films. (Leonard Cohen’s music creates an atmosphere you can taste and smell and feel. He is brilliant.) Don’t Look Now, Hamlet… I’ve never seen Christie be anything less than spectacular.
An exceptional thespian herself, Polley clearly understands how to work with other actors. But she has much more than her acting experience to draw from. As a director, she shows great appreciation for imagery and the role that cinematography plays in motion pictures. There’s a lot to look forward to from Polley; I’m certain she’ll only get better with each new film.
More recently, I rented Crank. It’s in the same vein as Away From Her, except it’s an action movie that races along at breakneck speed and features a lot of violence and some gore. Crank opens with hit man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) discovering that he’s been poisoned in his sleep and has one hour to live. Chev spends the movie racing around Los Angeles seeking an antidote, revenge on the people who poisoned him, and various ways of keeping his adrenaline high, which appears to be staving off the drugs and prolonging his life.
Writer/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor reportedly wrote the script in four and a half days, and it shows. The opening sequence really put me off; it’s too fast, too in-your-face, and features too many cut-aways to Chev’s failing, but still pulsing, heart. Ew. But somewhere along the way, the pace slows down a little bit and the stylization started to work for me. Any action movie whose hero spends a good chunk of time running around with his ass and perma-erection poking through a hospital gown wins points for going balls out and not taking itself too seriously. And Chev’s need for adrenaline leads to a couple of the most whacked-out sex scenes I’ve ever seen. One of them lends new meaning to the words: “Stay down!”
Statham is starting to make a name for himself in these kinds of off-beat, tongue-in-cheek action movies (e.g. The Transporter). And he’s also starting to make a name for himself on my list of hot actors worth seeing a movie for.
I recommend both films. Crank is a fun popcorn movie with a perverse sense of humour that’s best enjoyed with a group of rowdy friends. Away From Her is not. But it is well-worth seeing, if only so you’ll know what everyone else is talking about come awards season.