[#2018oscardeathrace] Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigot-Smith, Paul Higgins

Screenplay: Lee Hall

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]

 

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Florence Foster Jenkins) seems to surprise me with his films. He has regularly directed films that, on the surface, seem very boring, but when I see them, I’m often shocked at how much I’ve enjoyed them. Victoria & Abdul is another such film that seemed rather boring from what I’ve seen. But did the finished film actually work?

Victoria & Abdul is the story of a friendship between an aging Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal, Murder on the Orient Express) and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, Furious 7, Fukrey Returns). This friendship is resented by son Bertie (Eddie Izzard, Ocean’s Thirteen, The LEGO Batman Movie) and others in England, who devise several plots to get rid of Abdul and send him back to India.

Frears’s new film suffers from the same issue that some of his previous films have: their pacing. Victoria & Abdul should’ve been tightened down by cutting around 20 minutes from the film. There is a sizable chunk in the middle that doesn’t develop either character and also doesn’t advance the narrative.

What saves the film is the central relationship between Queen Victoria & Abdul Karim. It is the scenes with these two that are so spectacularly well-acted that it makes the entire viewing experience all the more enjoyable. Dench and Fazal put in some of the best performances of 2017, hands down, and their chemistry is terrific.

On the other side of that coin, I didn’t find the supporting “antagonists” of the film to be very well-written. I didn’t really understand their motives outside of them just being mad or jealous. It just didn’t work for me and I didn’t find them interesting or compelling enough to support the narrative’s driving force.

Victoria & Abdul showcases its two leads and their central relationship, and while the “villains” were less than stellar and Frears still hasn’t solved his pacing issues, Dench and Fazal have so much infectious chemistry that it still makes the film worth it. The technical merits of the film are finely-tuned here and the story is a very enjoyable character piece. Check this one out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stephen Frears’s Philomena, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] The Post (2017)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys

Screenplay: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

116 mins. Rated PG-13 for language and brief war violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Meryl Streep] [Pending]

 

Only Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, The BFG) could accomplish The Post in the time that he did. The film went through Production, Post-Production, and Release just in the Post-Production of his Ready Player One, the other film he was working on. Not only that, but to have that film go on to be nominated for Best Picture is exemplary.

The Post is the story of Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady, Florence Foster Jenkins), the owner and publisher of The Washington Post, and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump, Toy Story 3), the editor-in-chief as they come to a decision on how to proceed with the publishing of sensitive materials pertaining to a cover-up spanning four U.S. Presidents. As the weight of the decision falls on Kay, she is met with arguments on both sides and mounting tensions that could send multiple colleagues to prison for treason or ruin The Post’s reputation permanently.

For the most part, The Post is exactly what it needs to be, and it works very well. I really like the usage of Nixon’s actual audio in his portrayal. I loved how it leads right up to the opening of All the President’s Men, which almost makes The Post an unofficial prequel.

But the best part of The Post is its performances. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are amazing, but its supporting players are equally strong. I would have loved to see Bob Odenkirk (Girlfriend’s Day, TV’s Better Call Saul) nab an Oscar nomination for his work as Ben Bagdikian. The same should be said of Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight) as Robert McNamara.

The script is mostly strong and Spielberg has restrained and calm direction to give the floor to his performers which works. One sequence that doesn’t work is the opening. The film begins in Vietnam with an action sequence that feels very out of place. Perhaps it would work better somewhere else in the film as a flashback because it feels unneeded and very disconnected from the rest of the film.

Overall, The Post is a fine film and very important to the political landscape we are currently in. Is it a Best Picture? I’m not so sure. That being said, Spielberg’s film is very worthy of a lot of its credit. This is a need-to-see film.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, click here.

For my review of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

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