Sunday, October 13, 2013

Unconventional Relationships Rule Autumn’s Indie Cinema With Mr. Morgan’s Last Love!

The Good: Wonderful acting, Decent tone, Engaging characters and character development
The Bad: Very little actually happens in the film (could have just as easily been a play for the use of the medium).
The Basics: Mr. Morgan’s Last Love finds Michael Caine portraying a man exploring life after his prime in a surprisingly engaging film.

As Oscar Pandering Season kicks off, I’m devoting more attention at the movies to smaller films than the blockbusters (though there’s a good chance I’ll go see Gravity - reviewed here - tomorrow!). To that end, I found myself eagerly watching Mr. Morgan’s Last Love. After recently seeing the May to December classic film Harold And Maude (reviewed here!), I was interested to see how a contemporary film might pick up some of the same relationship issues or concepts. Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is far less quirky and it is made delightful by some truly incredible performances.

It is worth noting up front that Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is based upon a novel and I have not read that novel. Cinematically, it reminded me of Last Chance Harvey (reviewed here!), though it did not have such an oppressive tone. Instead, this is a small film that is characterized by acting that is done with masterful body language and more subtle than sensationalist directing.

Following the death of his wife, Matthew Morgan is alone in Paris. There he lives for three years where he does not speak any French. There, he is lonely until he accidentally runs into some people on a bus and is rescued by Pauline. After attempting to fill his day by exploring philately (and being dissuaded by a hardcore collector), Matthew sees Pauline again on the bus and makes a point of saying hello to her. She invites the retired professor to come to her dance studio, where she teaches cha cha. Morgan goes with his friend, Colette, who volunteers to act as his interpreter. Colette picks up almost immediately on Pauline’s nonverbal clues in the dance class that the younger woman knows Morgan and there is some chemistry between the two.

After visiting a line dancing class on his own, Matthew goes for a walk in the park and lunch with Pauline and he is dismayed when he walks her home and Pauline goes off with an impatient young man. He is, therefore, surprised when Pauline stops by his apartment. After taking Pauline out to a fancy lunch, his car dies and Matthew begins to feel like he is simply a fool for believing Pauline might have feelings for him when Pauline accepts a ride to her class from a passing guy she thinks is cute. Distraught, Matthew attempts suicide and wakes up to Pauline visiting him in the hospital, followed shortly thereafter by his son, Miles. Trying to explain his friendship with Pauline to Miles and Karen (Matthew’s adult daughter) starts to strain his family life.

Mr. Morgan’s Last Love explains itself exceedingly well. In fact, Matthew says flat out that he is a man who loved a woman to the exclusion of all else in his life and when he lost her, he was just biding his time, waiting for death. . . until Pauline enters his life. The film is in danger of losing focus when it shifts from Matthew and Pauline to explore Miles (and peripherally, Karen), but Mr. Morgan’s Last Love actually retains the viewer’s interest by having Miles and Pauline interact. There is an almost formulaic dichotomy in play when the well-meaning, but largely absent (from Matthew’s life) Miles and the present and interested Pauline.

The film sizzles with chemistry, genuine on-screen chemistry, but keeps interesting by drawing out exactly how the relationship between Matthew and Pauline will be defined. In fact, it takes until the midpoint of Mr. Morgan’s Last Love before Pauline explicitly states why she approached Matthew on the bus the first day they met. In that scene – in the hospital – Pauline becomes a fully-realized character with hopes, thoughts, and ambitions of her own. The film smartlyhe waits until the viewer is invested fully in Matthew Morgan and even some of the conflict between Miles and Matthew before it makes Pauline into someone more than just a pretty face.

Mr. Morgan’s Last Love evolves as a film well, largely as Miles begins to explore his father’s life in Paris and gets to know Pauline. It is aided by strong supporting performances. While Gillian Anderson does not have a lot to do (though she has some super-creepy body language in the way her character acts around her own brother), Justin Kirk who appears in Mr. Morgan’s Last Love as Miles illustrates that the range the writers and producers found to mine from him on Weeds was not the extent of his talents. In fact, there is only a single moment when Kirk’s façade as Miles slips and he seems more like the charismatic character he played for eight seasons. Jane Alexander’s role in Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is little more than a cameo.

The burden on Michael Caine in Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is to embody an aging character who is very much alone in Paris without seeming like some extended, lost scene (performancewise) featuring Alfred after the conclusion to The Dark Night Rises (reviewed here!). In that regard, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is a smashing success. Caine reminds viewers almost instantly how an actor can have a commanding, deep, and profound performance utilizing only his physical presence. From the first few moments on the screen, Caine plays Morgan as a man clearly in the instant of losing his most profound relationship and being utterly lost. Caine’s performance has Morgan slowly coming alive and while director Sandra Nettelbeck deserves a lot of credit for using light exceptionally well (most notably in a scene where Matthew takes Pauline out to lunch and reseats them at a table next to a window instead of a cold, blue-green wall), it is Caine who does the heavy lifting. In the lunch scene, he delivers a wonderful soliloquy on life that is elegantly phrased, but Caine makes seem organic and real.

Balancing Michael Caine’s star power is the virtually unknown (at least in the U.S.) Clemence Poesy. Poesy is best known to American audiences for her brief, supporting, role in the Harry Potter movies (reviewed here!) as Fleur. Poesy is much more than just a pretty face and a fit body (which is pretty much demanded by the fact her character is a dance instructor). She is able to emote with subtle eye movements and faint lip twitches. She bewitches the audience at least as easily as Pauline entices Matthew.

Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is a smart, subtle, film that is a refreshing change from giant films where a lot happens, but it is hard to invest in the characters. Instead, this is a study of incredible acting and complex character relationships. While all the big studios are putting out films to dangle obviously into the Oscar contest, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love might well be this year’s best choice for a film the critics should be looking at for nominations and awards for acting, writing, and directing. It would be refreshing to see a substantial film – one where the outcome of the film is not evident in the first few frames of the movie – get recognized by the Academy this year and right now, Mr. Morgan’s Last Love is at the top of my list.

For other works with Michael Caine, please check out my reviews of:
Now You See Me
The Dark Knight Trilogy
Children Of Men
The Prestige
Miss Congeniality
The Muppet Christmas Carol


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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