Film Review: The Danish Girl (★★★½)

danishgirl_posterWith the transgender movement heavily in the media with figures like Caitlyn Jenner, and countless others heading the conversation, a film like Tom Hooper‘s “The Danish Girl” feels vibrantly relevant in today’s cinematic climate.  Spearheaded by two powerhouse performances from Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, “The Danish Girl” is a luscious and gorgeously crafted piece, invigorating the soul with its conveying message of freedom and love.

As polarizing as Tom Hooper has been in his choices to shoot and frame his films like “The King’s Speech” and “Les Miserables,” two films that are still delightfully poignant years after, “The Danish Girl” is by far his most alluring film to date.  Cinematographer Danny Cohen truly hits his stride from the opening frames, as he calls back to Dick Pope’s work in last year’s “Mr. Turner,” but allows a story fragrantly moving to become his blank canvas in which to respectfully capture the film’s most sentimental moments.  If you’re searching for the “Hooper-isms” like people shoved into the corner of a scene or extreme close-ups, you’ll find them, but there’s a resourceful way in which he’s utilizing his tactics that feel genuine and necessary.

Last year Eddie Redmayne won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in James Marsh’s “The Theory of Everything,” beating out some big names.  A performance I quite liked but didn’t fully understand the gravitation over other names throughout the year.  As Lili Elbe, Redmayne ignites his most daring and captivating turn of his career.  Visually married to the woman in dedication to the role, he allows ‘Lili’ to wash over him both with aggression and delicacy.  It’s a near masterpiece performance that I’ll remember for years to come.

aliciavikander_danishgirlEqually compelling, and even more magnificent in her turn is Alicia Vikander, who in just under two hours, solidifies herself as one of the most breathtaking and exciting actresses working today.  Vikander’s subtlety and interpretation of ‘Gerda’, is a sensational vessel of complexity and honesty, as she runs the gauntlet of a woman desperate to understand and struggling to hold it together.  As the tears well up in her eyes, and she desperately asks Lili to have ‘Einar’ hold her, it’s the single most heart wrenching scene this year.  It’s the strongest and most compulsory turn by an actress this year, and one that will have the Academy Awards running to check off for a nomination.

The rest of the cast, in particular Amber Heard and Ben Whishaw is staggeringly good.  Matthias Schoenaerts‘ massive and stoic persona adds to the mystery and complicated nature of Lili’s existence.

Where “The Danish Girl” faults itself is with the script by Lucinda Coxen.  While she successfully captures the spirit and tone of Lili’s struggle through her life, her inserted beats of on-the-nose dialogue can be trying at times.  Having Gerda say things like “I felt like I was kissing myself” when recalling her and her husband’s first kiss, was a little over-the-top in an attempt at foreshadowing.  However, she delightfully captures the humble beginnings of their marriage, with the secret that plagues their union with accuracy.

Just one year after winning his long overdue Oscar for scoring “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” composer Alexandre Desplat synchronizes fervor and empathy with his brilliant orchestra.  I believe its one of his most profound works to date. Same can be said for Production Designer Eve Stewart and Costume Designer Paco Delgado, who both capture the essence of European history with accuracy and vitality.

The Danish Girl” is a seducing feature with fortitude and grace, all of which measures up to heroic story of being yourself, no matter what the circumstances.  Tom Hooper’s direction, along with Redmayne and Vikander’s work will likely be at the top of Oscar’s to-do list for the awards season.

“The Danish Girl” opens in theaters on November 27, 2015 in limited release and is distributed by Focus Features.