EDITOR FILM REVIEW: Cinema is an ever evolving art form. The medium is pushed constantly, often within its own limitations and once in a while, we get a something special in its outcome. I do believe the original premise surrounding Ned Benson’s long-awaited The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby would have been that type of film. Debuting at the Toronto Film Festival last year, the film was initially shown as two separate films offering up the male and female perspective of a New York couple’s relationship. Being purchased by Harvey Weinstein and the awards juggernaut The Weinstein Company, the film has been rumored to go through many different forms throughout its buying process. Once said to be a three-hour plus long cut putting both films together, and then finally landing on a combined version subtitled “Them.” If you are aware that there are two other versions of the film out there titled “Him” and “Her,” the theatrical version “Them” can be a simply satisfying introduction into the lives of Conor Ludlow (played passionately by James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (played by another staggering interpretation by Jessica Chastain). If you are NOT aware that there are two other complete and different told stories, then “Them” can be a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying story, with massive plot holes, and many questions left unanswered.
Written and directed by Benson, “Them” crafts an emotional and passionate tale of love lost, regained, and ultimately doomed to exist. Almost taking cues from films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Benson offers up an honest and raw interpretation of love in the shadow of tragedy. Likely not his first choice in which to tell his story, he takes a meticulous paintbrush and strokes through every part of the film with intricate detail, choosing what and what not to tell the audience.
James McAvoy is evolving before our very eyes and I’m afraid most of Hollywood and the world is missing out on it. Delivering questionably two Oscar worthy performances throughout his career (The Last King of Scotland and Atonement), McAvoy hits a new career pique as Connor. Seemingly born of mother New York, he wears every ounce of Connor with such comfort. He listens to his soul’s reaction to every instance that he faces. I don’t think you’ll find someone this year that is more evolved and earth shatteringly brilliant in the way they choose to display heartbreaking emotion.
The ever beautiful Jessica Chastain continues to show that there is a place in cinema for her, not just this decade but for all time. The tragedy that is embedded within Eleanor is so profound and interpreted so fully by Chastain, it’s a travesty to not include her in any awards conversation for not just this year, but any year. She pounds through Eleanor with relentless force, gauging her emotional highs and waiting until the opportune moment to unleash the fury and motives upon the viewer. I can’t think of any other woman this year that has demanded so much of herself and the audience. It’s another staggering performance to an already impressive resume that includes Zero Dark Thirty, The Tree of Life, and The Help.
Where Benson proves his worth as a writer in this love story is in the creation of the supporting characters. The multi-talented Viola Davis enriches every scene she’s in with stunning results. She continues to show why she needs to be able to helm her own picture. This is an actress that attacks, and doesn’t just take it lightly even in a role that is minimal in screen time. She makes her mark, and makes it well as Professor Friedman, a character that looks all too familiar when watching her speak.
When it comes to Bill Hader, a “Saturday Night Live” alumni that I would have never imagined would take the route that he’s been taking post-SNL departure. I need every alumni of the 40-year-old show to use Bill Hader as an example of what to do when you step away from NBC’s long-running machine. As Stuart, Hader offers subtle comic beats but a wonderful and morose realization of our generation’s current climate. And I say our, but I really mean “my.” Continue to do what you’re doing Hader, I support you all the way.
Benson also assembles veterans like William Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, and Isabelle Hupert, along with the richly talented Jess Weixler. All of which stand up to the task of offering a little more insight into the characters they interact with. It’s a stunning ensemble that is one of the best seen this year yet.
Ultimately The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them hits the right chords. Enriched in emotion and raw intensity, Benson crafts a loving story that will stand as one of the best told in some time. It likely stands better as a collection piece of the entire series with “Him” and “Her” attached. As a stand alone film, it does enough to suffice. A definite watch for 2014.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is currently in theaters and is distributed by The Weinstein Company.