The Good: Amazing acting, Decent emotional conflict for the characters, Good character development
The Bad: Formulaic plot, Overbearing soundtrack.
The Basics: A Perfect Man explores the destruction of a relationship, the loneliness the unfaithful man feels afterward and the cautious hope embodied by the woman determined to put her life back together again!
It’s turning into a Liev Schreiber day for me. Schreiber was the star in the science fiction film I watched this morning, The Last Days On Mars and tonight, he was second-billed behind Jeanne Tripplehorn in the limited-release A Perfect Man. It is hard not to give credit immediately to director Kees Van Oostrum; Van Oostrum manages to present Schreiber as initially cold and menacing, but quickly brings him from aloof into dead sexy. The transition happens so fast that it almost seems like Schreiber’s character, James, is suffering from a split personality disorder. Van Oostrum keeps the performance tight, though, so Schreiber never strays over the line into making the viewer doubt the character’s mental health (though we quickly come to doubt his moral intergrity).
Starting with the complicated performance Liev Schreiber is important; it makes the character of Nina, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, make much more sense right off the bat. Tripplehorn is good, but it is easy to brush her character’s enlightened views about relationships off until one sees Schreiber’s nuanced performance. Schreiber silently portrays the idea that even a man who has fidelity issues can still have a genuine – or convincing – love for his wife and when Nina sees that in him, her character becomes much more layered and real.
After picking Nina up in a bar, James seduces her. They are married shortly thereafter. Over nine years later, Nina and her friend/client Lynne follow Nina’s running buddy, Martha into the nearby city. Nina is suspicious because Martha hates the city and there she witnesses Martha having an affair with James. Revealing to Lynne that this is not the first affair that James has had, Nina does not call James out on his infidelity. James, for his part, seems interested in continuing the marriage . . . right up until the moment, at their anniversary party, when Nina calls him out on his affairs and announces that the pair is splitting up.
Despite James desperately trying to cling to Nina – though ruining her luggage does not make him feel better – Nina leaves and moves in with Lynn. While Lynn brings Nina out for a night on the town, James is approached by Laura, the college aged daughter of a woman he once had an affair with. As James walks home through Amsterdam at night, he finds himself contemplating his life and decisions. Despite the many temptations thrown his way, James resists having a separation affair on Nina. Nina, in recovering her laptop from the apartment, sees another side of James (the one she fell in love with) and she concocts a plan to get James interested in her again. She calls him up, pretending to call the dog, and gets James talking to her. James opens up to Janika, not knowing that it is Nina and they develop an over-the-phone relationship.
A Perfect Man starts out much like The Story Of Us (reviewed here!), without all of the yelling. The film transitions well, motivated by the characters, into a story of people actually developing a relationship with one another again. James is realistically shattered by Nina leaving; as if he had never actually considered the magnitude of his indiscretion and the probability that Nina would actually leave.
The somewhat contrived plot device of Nina re-seducing James over the phone is presented in an engaging fashion. It is interspersed well with scenes that have James’s mother visiting and giving insight into James’s character faults. A Perfect Man manages to be moody without losing its entertainment value and while the plot follows somewhat formulaically, it actually seems organically moved by the characters. James is presented as truly lost enough to talk on the phone to a stranger that calls and A Perfect Man is realistic in its portrayal of a man lost.
Unlike most romantic dramas or romantic comedies (and, despite the overuse of the soundtrack, A Perfect Man definitely falls on the dramatic side), Nina’s utterly contrived attempt to determine how James actually feels never comes across as ridiculous. In fact, even the moment when Nina (as Janika) picks up the phone the first time James calls back, Nina does not seem either goofy or desperate, which would have been a death knell for the film.
The strength of Nina comes down to the performance by Jeanne Tripplehorn. Tripplehorn is subtle and loving, strong without being a parody of feminism, and hopeful but cautious alternatively as Nina and she sells every emotion she is asked to portray. In fact, her performance is so good, it is shocking she does not get more first-billed roles! The magic of Jeanne Tripplehorn in A Perfect Man is that she can convincingly play a wide range of emotions with minimal facial movements and vocal inflections, while still making Nina seem like a viable, realistic character.
Together, Tripplehorn and Schreiber do on-screen what very few on-screen couples are ever able to pull off. They make their characters seem like they once had viable chemistry, lost it, and they make the process of finding love for one another again interesting to watch.
While A Perfect Man might not be the most original story told on film this year, it is bound to be one of the most underrated; the film has powerhouse acting and characters who are far more complex than most films allow.
For other films that explore complications in relationships, please check out my reviews of:
Mr. Morgan's Last Love
A Late Quartet
The Best Offer
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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