Noah Baumbach is a name that makes me want to watch a film. One of his best qualities is the way he makes his characters speak. This is on full display in Marriage Story as you get to see a real splinter deepening between a couple. What is remarkable about this film is that he’s taken this structure and not take sides. We get to see both the husband and wife make their case for what they feel. This makes the impact hit you with a lot more force. You might be thinking that you’ll have to take a side but even at the end, there is that ambiguous feeling in us. These are just two people who care for each other but don’t have to be together.
For Marriage Story to succeed, a lot of it depends on the quality of acting from the leads. And this is perhaps the single biggest achievement of the film. We get two incredible, heartbreaking and real performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. I wouldn’t be surprised if people paused the film if it got too much to handle. I know I did this. You almost feel that its better to watch it on a streaming service than a theater from which there would be no escape. The emotional hits keep coming and at no point do they feel forced. And the beauty of doing this is that you understand where these people are coming from. Their motivations, feelings and actions feel organic and this is quite hard to achieve but Baumbach aces this part of the film.
You can see traces of your own relationship, your parent’s relationship or those around you in these two people. Another good move by Baumbach is that he doesn’t use the emotional impact on the child to manipulate us. Even there, the element of realism present in the child makes us feel so much. The amazing thing about both Driver and Johansson is that they convince you in both the showy moments as well as the more somber ones. These are two actors who are completely in sync with the characters that they play to such an extent that we forget the actors and focus on the characters.
Marriage Story works as a way of telling us that it is possible to love someone but you don’t always have to like them. The cast is rounded off with some solid turns from Ray Liotta, Alan Alda and best of all, Laura Dern. She gets a monologue that is so riddled with truth, it becomes uncomfortable after a point. It is this kind of writing that makes Marriage Story so convincing. We may look at it and wonder why we should feel for these people but Baumbach makes us feel, ache and yearn for all sorts of things. At the end, your not left in a weepy mess but you feel the sense that this is life. As Russell Bufalino from The Irishman might say, “It is what it is.” Baumbach takes a real situation from his life and makes it our own by making us privy to these problems. It is hard to deal with personal material but he does it with real aplomb. And perhaps that is the biggest triumph of Marriage Story.
Before I get into how I feel about The Irishman I’d just like to say that it is kind of a miracle that this film actually got made. Thanks to Netflix for picking it up and letting Marty create the magic that he always does. So, let’s get back to the film at hand. The Irishman is different from a film like GoodFellas particularly in it’s pacing. While the 1990 film was more about the speed at which the mob goes, this is more of a methodical approach. The result is that we get to see all elements of the mob, the government and most importantly the men.
This is more to do with how these men deal with what what they’ve done. The most obvious example of this is Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro) and the final shot says so much about him. It ends up being a little heartbreaking to see a man at the brink. The Irishman is backed up by what you expect from a film that has this much firepower. From the performances that frequently feel sublime and the direction that knows when to reveal and when to hold back. A special mention has to be made about Rodrigo Prieto’s camera that captures all the chaos with such elegance that it feels intoxicating.
And of course, you can’t talk about The Irishman without the heavyweights that are involved. De Niro, Pacino and Pesci all pull off their best work in years and they’re not really playing to type here. Pesci’s Russell is in many ways the anti Tommy from GoodFellas. You don’t expect him to be this way but it is a revelation to see him introspect so much while being a complete badass. De Niro does explode every now and then but by the end of the film, there is almost a sense of guilt and regret in his mind. Pacino on the other hand gets the most showy part of the film and is in incredible form. When you have so many people operating at their peak, the results are going to be magical.
These three are supported by some fine turns including Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano and Anna Paquin who in a nearly wordless performance says so much about Frank the man. The Irishman is more than just a story about the mob. It is about betraying friends, losing family and all the while looking to survive. The jobs these men do takes a lot out of them and it is visible both physically and literally. Using digital effects to show the age of these men will feel a little distracting to begin with. But due to the power of talent on display, you will soon forget that and be invested in the story. I’d never thought I would get to see a somber mob film from Marty but I’m so happy that he’s entered that zone. More than anything else, The Irishman is proof that there are very few directors who can stage a scene as well as Scorsese does. From all of us, thank you for The Irishman. Keep making more movies and bringing such amazing talents together. Also, thank you Netflix.
Looking at the career of Alfonso Cuaron, it is interesting to see his trajectory. He has done some personal films based in his homeland, a franchise blockbuster and two sci-fi films. The better film out of those two ended up being a box-office disappointment and that is disheartening. With Roma being a return to his roots and his first film since the Oscar winning Gravity, it is safe to say that this film comes with a lot of expectations. Though it is already on Netflix, I was one of the lucky few who got to see it on a big screen. And I am so thankful that I did. While Cuaron the director is in top form here, it is Cuaron the cinematographer that has pulled of something incredible. Two scenes in particular, one involving a hospital and one set in an ocean are quite simply breathtaking. It leaves one wondering how the hell did they shoot it. The black and white look of the film adds to its impact and transports us to Mexico in the 70s.
And that brings me to another wonder of the film, the protagonist played by Yalitza Aparicio. The relationship she has with the children in the film is so heart-warming. Some of the best parts of the film happen when the camera lingers on her face. Great acting doesn’t always have to be expressive. At times, just processing what’s happening can prove to be highly effective. This is one aspect of Aparicio’s acting that is brilliant and at no point does it feel like she’s someone making her debut. By keeping the camera at a distance, Cuaron allows us to soak in all that makes up the landscape. This surprisingly enhanced the connection that I had with the characters. We see the world that they live in, the beauty that is present in it, the problems that come with it and the connection that keeps them going. Those who find flaws in the film might say that the pace is too slow. But Roma isn’t worried about how fast it moves, it is a timeless story that is set in a specific place and time. Looking beyond the technical expertise, there is an emotional core that many can connect with. And when technique and emotion combine to produce art, what you get is Roma.