Friday, December 24, 2010

Or: The Trials of Mad King George the Stammerer

This past summer, I thought I wouldn't see a better trailer for a film in 2010 than those for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the comic-based film starring Michael Cera that I had been sure would be my number one film for the year. Sadly, the film did not live up to the standard set by Bryan O'Malley's comic series and while I still loved the film, one check of 2010's Top 10 films shows it not to have made the cut. Such is the danger of overly relying on a film's trailer to be an indicator of sed film's overall quality, and I learned my lesson from that experience not to set my expectations too high, lest I be disappointed again. Of course, Black Swan also had an excellent trailer and actually lived up to the hype, so it can be done. My favorite recent trailer, however, was for a film so completely unlike the two that though it has long been hailed by critics as one of the year's best, I wasn't sure if I would even have interest in seeing it. Of course, I did see The King's Speech yesterday, and now the only problem I have may be deciding where it falls in my Top 10.

Well of course he's having trouble: Who wouldn't in that hat?
The basis for the film comes from the true story of England's King George VI. While still serving as the Duke of York, Prince Albert (Colin Firth) begins to see speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) due to a pronounced stammer that made him terrified of public speaking, The creation of the "wireless" or radio means that the days of a member of the royal family simple being seen well not falling off his horse are over, and the King and his family are now expected to speak to their people through the airwaves. What culminates is a friendship between the future King of England and a commoner that is so unbelievable it must be true.

Don't you just want to buy him a drink?
Directed by noted British director Tom Hooper, The King's Speech is a film that lives and dies by its actors. Firth really pulls off the idea that he's a man with a serious verbal handicap, his speech impediment fully believable in its severity and adjustment throughout the film. The role of the future King George may not be as deep or as subtle as that of George Falconer from last year's excellent A Single Man, but that role was so amazing that to compare most any performance to it would be unfair, even for Firth. Still, Firth is an amazing presence on the screen, accurately and charismatically portraying one of the more famous nobles of the 20'th century with distinction. Rush is equally charming as the speech therapist Logue, whose treatment of the king involved some peculiar methods but mostly emphasized humor, patience and sympathy. Rush is disarmingly funny, but it would be wrong to simply call him a comedian and leave it at that. Logue is instead a strong character in his own right, driven by a need to help others that is admirable, especially in his charging expensive rates for his more affluent clients to cover care for those who can't afford his treatment. Rush is simply amazing, on par with Firth and better than any role I've ever seen him perform. Helena Bonham Carter is a surprise, as the woman who usually plays dark ladies in Tim Burton films proves she still can perform at a high level as the future Queen Elizabeth I. Carter plays both a loving wife and mother and a traditional monarch, and the blend makes for one of her best ever characters. Guy Pearce plays George's brother and predecessor, King Edward VIII, who so obviously doesn't want anything to do with the throne it almost makes you wince. Pearce has taken a step back from high-profile roles in recent years, but this minor role here is a good fit, and he manages to encompass in Edward everything that George has not, including confidence and excessive charm. The only real disappointment in the cast is Timothy Spall, whose attempt at a Winston Churchill impression works to some degree in the voice but looks like a scowling bulldog. For such a well-known historical figure, it would have been nice to get a more suitable actor for the role, as my eyebrows instinctively scrunched up every time he appeared on screen. Smaller roles my Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Eve Best and Jennifer Ehle successfully round out a talented cast that do a good job of looking like they fit the times.

Tattoos are just more efficient for note-taking
The sets and camera work is fantastic, with several amazing camera shots of scenes throughout England. Hooper definitely has an eye towards detail, deftly changing angles to best suit the mood he wants to evoke from the audience. The best use of this is when we see through George's eyes, especially in large crowds when he's expected to speak, and we can understand his hesitation and fear to do so. There's also a very old-timey feel to the film quality that makes it feel like a classic period piece while being wholly realistic in its implementation.

Will Firth (or any of the others) get top awards for their performances?
In the end, it was really down to whether to place this highly-renowned film atop my year's Top 10 List. There was little worry going in to see it  that it would rank highly among this year's releases, and reason enough to think it may come out number one. But the idea of the "buddy comedy" comes to mind as I write these words. In your standard buddy film, two characters or completely differing backgrounds coming together for a common cause, and while their differences make for some funny moments for the audience, they eventually come together as friends by the story's conclusion. That fits The King's Speech to a tee... but it also describes about half of Jackie Chan's American films. That I'm comparing Rush Hour to this great film may seem like a slight, I assure you it's not. I simply mean that the story is somewhat formulaic in it's telling, and while it's based on a true story and has outstanding acting, it still drops it slightly in my book. Besides, for a film with such amazing performances, stellar dialogue and beautiful camerawork, landing at #2 for the year isn't a bad deal in the slightest.

1 comment:

THE Real Estate Analyst!!! said...

you can erase this if you wish ... spelled "said" not "sed"