MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Cannes Review: Mr. Turner

20140516-001557.jpg

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner is a movie about an artist who is past his moment of greatest glory. A biopic only in that it rests on a historic figure in art, this is not a film about Turner’s inspiration or his method or his history. It is about the other side of the mountain, the apex of which Turner reached before the first shot of this film.

The recent film I was most reminded of stylistically is The Grand Budapest Hotel, in which the canvas of the film was both sublime and irrelevant. Inhabiting this director’s world, instead of Wes Anderson’s Rube Goldberg madness and hyper-real characters, is Timothy Spall’s grunting and grounded Turner and the tiny group of supporting players in his life, as subtle as Anderson’s are explosive.

Like the concierge at the center of Grand Budapest, Turner is a well-established force of nature in his world. But our story (without Budapest‘s flashbacks) starts with Turner’s creeping awareness of being past his prime, increasingly unsettled, starting with the loss of his father… his greatest fan and deepest enabler. The void created by the loss of the one person he truly loves sends him deeper into solitude and fear.

He finds peace (and great light) In the home of Mr. & Mrs. Booth. The Mr. instantly embodies the strong father that Turner never had, though there is no real relationship and he Mrs. will become Turner’s lover/mother, the next only person he will ever love.

Turner is a man, In this film, who wants it both ways… everything both ways. He both wants to humiliate an artist who is working in his milieu and to reassert his power to those around him. A dab of red paint serves both causes. He wants to sell his work, but also wants to secure a place in art and national history for all to see for free. He seeks to both criticize his peers and to defend them against glib criticism from others. He seeks his deepest love under an assumed name.

Even in his work, after having achieved name-brand status, which matters deeply to him, he pushes further into less literally representational art, driven as much by spite as a clear aesthetic goal.

Leigh works with Dick Pope for the tenth time, but reportedly the first time on digital. One of the central themes of the film is the light… more so than in any previous Leigh film. We see the world from Turner’s perspective… the hyper-magical light as he saw it and then recreated it on canvas. And it is magnificent.

Spall is amazing. But Spall is almost always amazing. The parade of Leigh Company Actors is here, each a delight. Whether it’s the near-silent performance of Dorothy Atkinson as the housekeeper and occasional sex partner, Hannah, or Marion Bailey as the wise Mrs. Booth, who has already buried two husbands, or briefs appearances by Lesley Manville or Ruth Sheen… all a pleasure to watch.

But the question of how you identify yourself on that downslope, fighting and fearing and succumbing to time… even from that highest perch… makes the experience of the film a rich, challenging, rigorous one.

9 Responses to “Cannes Review: Mr. Turner”

  1. LYT says:

    I read the whole review and I still don’t know who Mr. Turner is historically or what his first name is.

    Looking at the pic I assumed he was an engineer. He’s an artist?

  2. David Poland says:

    Then I have done my job, Luke.

    The movie is not an art history biopic..

    And he was called Billy by his father and some others… Turner by most.

  3. Bob Burns says:

    and our friend, Mr Poland, doesn’t know that these late works are triumphs – among the most important paintings in art history.

  4. Breedlove says:

    I need to go on a Mike Leigh binge. Haven’t seen a lot of his stuff, most in fact I’m embarrassed to admit. That last one was so good, the one with Broadbent puttering around in the garden.

  5. Mdmovers says:

    Not bad, He’s an artist?

  6. Daniella Isaacs says:

    This was clearly a quickly dashed off review, as the typos prove, but still… Anyone who knows anything about art history would know who David is talking about based on the fact that he’s identified as an artist who is clearly British. Even though the name Turner is more common than, say, Warhol, referring to a British artist named Turner is like saying “the American artist Warhol.” In textbooks he would be identified fully as J.M.W. Turner.

  7. spacesheik says:

    Excellent, well written Cannes reviews, Dave, keep them coming.

  8. cadavra says:

    Not knowing who the subject of a movie is should not be a reason to avoid it. Aren’t films–especially those based on fact–supposedly to be enlightening? I confess I’m not familiar with Mr. Turner or his work but I’m keen to see this picture.

Leave a Reply

The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott