By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Writer/directors Derek Cianfrance and Lars Von Trier both have unique styles of filmmaking and storytelling, but both know how to write about people, relationships and the dark and melancholy direction that these relationships often follow. A new name can be added to the list of esteemed filmmakers who know just how to write and develop characters in a painfully realistic manner. Ned Benson, with his first feature film trilogy called The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, has proven himself worthy of joining the ranks of other similar acclaimed artists. I have not actually watched the first two parts of the trilogy (Him, Her), but can only conclude that the male and female perspectives of the same story are more in depth character examinations. The final film, titled Them, is an impressively done piece, but feels a tad incomplete and biased.
James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain star as Conor Ludlow and Eleanor Rigby, a once passionate and loving couple whose relationship is nearly destroyed by a very personal tragedy. Them gives the audience an overview of their story, combining flashbacks of their happy, romantic courtship with scenes of both characters during their separation and the difficult times of failed reconciliation. Each character has their own personal flaws, demons, and issues with which they must deal, but they also have to accept certain truths about each other before they can figure out the future of the relationship.
I have to say that I was quite impressed with Benson’s work here. As I saw the actors performing his writing and bringing it to life, it was hard to deny his skill and ability to write and construct these scenes that feel genuine and true-to-life. This is not a cliché or formulaic love story with the perfect Hollywood crescendos. Benson’s work beautifully reflects all of the uncomfortable, awkward and imperfect moments that people actually experience in their lives. As I stated above, I feel that, in combining the stories in this film, Benson has a biased approach. He focusses on Eleanor’s perspective of the relationship more than Conor’s side. I do realize that she is the title character; however, I expected more of a balance between both sides.
The solid writing and direction definitely brings out some exceptional performances by the cast. Chastain and McAvoy deliver some truly sublime work here. They have a credible chemistry in their romantic scenes and a natural ability to express the appropriate emotions of anger and heartbreak in the not-so-romantic moments. The movie also boasts a strong supporting cast which includes Nina Arianda, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciaran Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, William Hurt, and Jess Wexler.
As a big proponent of indie fare, I must encourage my readers to go see this movie. If not a fan of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine or The Place Beyond the Pines, then perhaps it might be best to skip this one. Even though I previously mentioned a writing comparison to Lars Von Trier, I can’t really compare Benson’s more restrained directorial style to the unflinching, and sometimes painful and shocking style that has made Von Trier infamous. People who despise the Danish filmmaker’s work will find this film more accessible, but those who love it may leave this one with mixed feelings. Nevertheless, Ned Benson has an undeniable talent for filmmaking and I look forward to more of his work.