British director Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner" is not a truly great movie, but it is a great reminder of how many components make one.
British director Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” is not a truly great movie, but it is a great reminder of how many components make one.
The biopic focuses on the later years of beloved 19th Century British painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall). Turner is eccentric and abrasive and also brilliant.
Leigh examines a patchwork of events in Turner’s life, from his father’s death to his relationship with his maid to his contentious relationship with his own legacy.
Know-him-when-you-see-him character actor Spall gives a fantastic anchoring performance, pulling off gruffness and vulnerability with ease. He could have easily been an addition to the already Brit-heavy Best Actor race.
The areas where the film did get Oscar nods are just as well-deserved. It’s tough to recommend a movie based solely on the cinematography, but Dick Pope’s work with the camera is a stunning manipulation of light that mirrors Turner’s paintings. The often-invisible fields of set and costume design are also impeccable here.
All these parts should add up to a great experience, but Leigh’s multi-faceted approach to Turner’s life results in a lack of clear narrative thrust. It feels like a collection of scenes — some great, some less so — but never quite a cohesive story.
This may be colored by my personal aversion to most period pieces. Did people really say things like “What a curious fate is mine!” in mid-1800s Britain? Possibly, but I have a hard time relating.
The target audience (this is a perfect fit for the Drexel Theatre crowd) will enjoy the artistry, but I still say storytelling is the most important part of filmmaking.