45 Years Plot Summary:
As their 45th Wedding Anniversary nears, a letter from Geoff’s (Tom Courtenay) past creates a building tension between the couple, as Kate (Charlotte Rampling) begins to question how much their relationship really mattered.
I respect what this movie tries to do. The goal is clear – take people who seemingly know each other inside and out, and turn their entire marriage upside down in the span of days. Creating ripples in a seemingly happy marriage is nothing new to cinema, but this isn’t how it would normally be handled. Unlike Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road where Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet scream at each other like it’s World War VIII, 45 Years is extremely subtle. It’s practically all visual tension. Can something like this work? Absolutely. Where the film fails though is in its characters. They aren’t compelling enough to carry the heavy material.
Charlotte Rampling plays Kate, a former school teacher, and very happy at the beginning of the movie. Her husband Geoff is simple enough, but seems genuine. They are about to hold a huge 45 year Anniversary party. Everything is sunshine and roses, until Geoff gets a letter harkening back to a tragedy in his past. This starts a chain reaction that slowly destroys their relationship. Did I mention the word slowly? I just want to make sure. Holy, wedding vows. Slow is the word. They are definitely building towards a huge climax (the party), but it takes forever, and the movie isn’t even that long! While the last twenty minutes are great, it loses luster because we’ve already lost interest. I’m all for build up and slow playing it, but I have limits. It all goes back to the characters though. If they worked, the pacing wouldn’t have been as big an issue.
Kate is a likable enough character. It’s definitely her movie. You care about her. You feel bad when she unravels certain secrets, but that’s about it. There are definitely moments where Rampling’s performance hits you hard, but she never got to me. While the last shot is brilliant, I’m not fully connected to her story, so it falls flat. This is not a failing of the actress. If the script had given her more to chew on, she absolutely would have delivered. There’s an awkward chemistry between her and Geoff, which is the point. The problem is Geoff isn’t that compelling either, although Courtenay’s reserved, vulnerable performance actually worked better overall. There are even times when I sympathized more with his character, which I’m not sure was the point. There are no other supporting characters of note. They give Kate a best friend (Geraldine James) to confide in, but it’s a completely throw away character.
While I appreciate the subtlety, this could have really benefited from a David O. Russell type. Not so much in the comedy, but the film could have used a screaming match or two. Even though the circumstances are different, the film reminded me a lot of Amour from 2012. While I’m not in love with that film, they did the quiet, ponderous approach a hell of a lot better. Even though Emmanuelle Riva’s character was on her death bed, I got more of who she was than I ever did with Kate.
Pulling this type of film off is ambitious, but the director (Andrew Haigh) was not up to the challenge. While the Anniversary scene at the end brought me back, including a speech that oddly comes off as suspenseful, the film had prodded along too slowly for me to care. The script disregards character, and the power the film wants you to feel suffers for it.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘Meh’)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.