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A tree that grows as decades fly
Has proved its will to live.
And most may think a tree so high
Will yield all it can give.

Indeed it may, as many do,
Its strength confirmed by age,
But age can also rot it through,
A cancer hard to gauge.

We cannot know its fortitude
Until the tempest blows,
And if its weakened roots protrude,
Then everybody knows.

MPAA rating: R (for language and a bedroom scene)

I can usually admire what I call Triple A movies, those that are All About the Acting, but even the best actors need a worthwhile story to tell. I had hoped 45 Years would have the right combination, but not so. This golden-years pairing of Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling has a pretty simple concept and doesn’t expand too much on it, filling the performances with subtlety but leaving the plot an unsatisfying bore.

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Norfolk retirees Kate (Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Courtenay) are approaching their 45th anniversary, only to have their bucolic married bliss disturbed by a letter informing Geoff that the body of his former sweetheart in the ‘60s has been found frozen in a Swiss glacier. Geoff had told Kate about how he had lost his girlfriend Katya in an accident, so this isn’t too much of a surprise, but the flood of memories from this news overcomes Geoff and makes him obsess over his days with Katya. This sets off a chain of false fronts and hidden distress as Geoff says he’s all right but won’t let Katya and Switzerland go, while Kate insists it doesn’t bother her even though she’s clearly troubled.

The two stars carry off this slow escalation of emotion with expert nuance, and I can see why they were both nominated for several awards, with Rampling winning far more than Courtenay. Yet, as Kate’s irritation comes to a head, her deep-seated insecurity seems rather overblown considering that the whole film takes place over the course of a single week. If Geoff were to continue his preoccupation with Katya for weeks or months, I could better understand Kate’s objections, but shouldn’t she give him a chance to grieve when his buried sorrow is unearthed? I realize she loses some trust at his half-truths, but she takes it all much too personally. I mean, does she really expect to lose her husband of 45 years to a dead woman? By the end, it doesn’t matter how sincere Geoff’s professions of love seem; she’s let her unquieted doubts ruin her 45th anniversary, probably for nothing.

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Perhaps that’s the point (or should be) of this well-made and melancholy film, the danger of letting little troubles eat away at your inner peace, as when Kate sloughs off a potential source of agitation but adds on the word “Still….” That’s a worthwhile moral, but the film doesn’t pull it off as well as it could have. Looking back at it, the news Geoff got was only a big deal because their lives were so boring and uneventful. With 97% approval, Rotten Tomatoes describes 45 Years as a gem “for fans of adult cinema,” so perhaps I’m not adult enough to overlook the flimsy reason for this story to even be worth telling.

Best line: (Geoff) “What? You really believe you haven’t been enough for me?”   (Kate) “No. I think I was enough for you, I’m just not sure you do.”


Rank:  Dishonorable Mention


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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