Charlotte Rampling might be the ballsiest actress of her generation. Many will recall her from such noteworthy films as “Stardust Memories” and “The Verdict”, others for controversial fare like “Angel Heart”, the risqué French flick “Swimming Pool”, and Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia”. For me, her most telling performance was in “Basic Instinct 2”, because it suggests that no matter how refined, the dame really doesn’t give a shit. For her role in Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years”, Rampling definitely earned her Oscar nomination. Originally designed as a short story by writer David Constantine, the film follows Kate and Geoff Mercer (Rampling and “Quartet” star Tom Courtenay), a couple who experience a major breach of trust during the twilight of their marriage. Haigh’s treatment simply doesn’t fulfill the stretch to a feature-length production, and it’s on Rampling to make up the difference. Just before a party for their 45th wedding anniversary, Geoff receives news that the body of his ex-girlfriend, who died in a freak accident some five years before he met Kate, has turned up perfectly preserved within the Alpine fissure that consumed her. Geoff mourns as if it had happened yesterday, secretly longing for his lost love, while Kate suddenly feels like she’s been playing second fiddle for nearly half a century. Things grow quietly tense as the festivities draw near, and it becomes apparent that the celebration is going to be unilateral. The psychology of such an anomaly provides much for discussion, and for Rampling’s nuanced and seriously affecting performance. But “45 Years” is not a particularly entertaining film. It is more of a challenge, as a sense of betrayal looms, a pervasive melancholy persists, and finally disgust emerges—during which time the movie’s inertia threatens to drag us into the doldrums. It’s all very subtle, but Rampling’s eyes tell us a lot. Do we ever really know another person? A frightening query. Haigh’s appreciation of mood and environment shows a lot of discipline, but is often so reserved that these questions get lost in the atmosphere. A wise man recently told me that behavior never lies, and this director seems intent on applying that theory to the shifting dynamic of his principal characters, who are masking their real feelings for much of the film. Courtenay is perfectly convincing as the husband, assuming you buy into the premise of his mental transgression—a lot of pensive moments follow. And that’s why Rampling deserves her nomination, because she’s absolutely fascinating to watch, even when the movie is virtually stagnant.
Opens in Washington DC Friday, January 22nd.
— M. Parsons