The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The Dresser

Yes, I'm only seeing this 1983 Oscar nominee now. The movie is a film adaptation of a stage play. Look at what Peter Yates did with this one and what Milos Forman did with Amadeus a year later and you'll see a world of difference in how to bring a stagy piece to the big screen. Yates keeps the action small and tight on the protagonists. Forman goes for the epic sweep. I thought The Dresser suffered from its claustrophobic feel of filming mostly in a single dressing room.

The movie is for the most part a two-person dialog between aging actor "Sir" (Albert Finney) and his swishy personal assistant and dresser, Norman (Tom Courtenay). Sir is suffering from what seems to be rapid onset dementia as he leads a Shakespearean touring company throughout England in the middle of World War II. These are the dark days of the war and bombs are falling throughout the country, all able-bodied men are off fighting, and Sir is vainly attempting to bring culture and entertainment to the masses with the motley crew he can assemble.

His character is supposedly an acclaimed, noted actor who can generate an audience and carry a show based solely on his own enormous talent. He has an ego to match. It's difficult to watch now and know what is supposed to be the good acting and what is supposed to be over the top, since styles have changed so much since the 1940s. Even the monologues that bring the audience to tears in the movie seem artificial and overdone to our modern eyes.

But what goes on onstage is not the point. The movie showcases the dedication and love that Norman shows his employer as he supports the man through ever-worsening bouts of delirium, amnesia, fits, and panic attacks. Norman is single-minded in getting Sir onstage and through his performance of Lear, no matter what. The viewer is left with the job of determining how much of this is support for Sir and how much is Norman's need to keep his carefully organized life running in its predictable order.

In the end, I was disappointed in the movie. The development and acceleration of Sir's illness is rushed and improbable as the central catalyst. Both Courtenay and Finney seem too aware of the Acting required to tell the Important story of these characters (capitalization put in for emphasis).

And although Finney played Ebeneezer Scrooge thirteen years before this movie, I still felt he did not look old enough for the character as written. It is certainly an interesting historical look at English theater during the war years. I enjoyed that part of it. The DVD has no special features and is an old, grainy print.

There is no objectionable material for children, but they'll be asleep after the first ten minutes.


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