In a year of mega shows like Cate Blanchett in the movie “Tar” And the Brendan Fraser in “The Whale” It’s soothing and sometimes disturbing to watch Bill Nighy so calm in the affirmation film “Living.”
Nighy is hardly as loud of a whisper as Mr. Williams, a shivering man who hides a terminal illness from his son and his staff. The actor never explodes in rage, howls in pain or squeals in ecstasy. It’s eerily quiet. Like Williams, Nighy is also hiding a secret from us, and we, in turn, are mesmerized by every blink and sigh.
Show duration: 102 minutes. Rated PG-13 (some suggestive material and smoking). In select theaters Friday.
The 73-year-old British actor, who has had an extraordinary four-decade career on stage and screen, has a solid shot at earning his well-deserved first Academy Award nomination.
“Living,” an all-around great movie, is a clever adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film “Ikiru” (or “Living”) and is appropriately transferred to post-war London in 1952.
Williams is a blunt bureaucrat on the now-defunct London County Council, where he is in charge of the Public Works Department. Feared and respected by his staff, such as the bright-eyed Mr. Wakeling (Alex Sharp), he does nothing but ignore the requests of concerned citizens, or pushes them to other supervisors who shove them into a discarded filing cabinet. His office is a circle of resigned inaction – kinda like life.
One day the man in charge mysteriously doesn’t come to work and instead takes the train to Brighton beach, where he gets drunk in the pub with an eccentric author. He also begins meeting with beautiful assistant Margaret (Amy Lou Wood, Samia) – not romantically – for lunch and the movies. Those closest to the widower, such as his uncaring and money-hungry son, are baffled by his behavior.
Williams further confuses them when he becomes obsessed with the requests of three mothers to build a playground on an abandoned plot of land in their neighborhood to serve underprivileged children. He is determined to do whatever it takes to see the project through to completion.
In those scenes, Nighy — her upper lip still stiff — breaks your heart. Awakened Williams is not unlike Scrooge on Christmas morning, only truer to life and our button-down funnel than a Victorian gentleman in a bathrobe ordering a child to buy a goose.
Director Oliver Hermanus has as much restraint as his star (and for a film of such modest size, he admirably manages believable 1950s Britain), and the viewer never feels emotionally manipulated.
When our eyes begin to weep towards the spiritual end, we are surprised and mirror the same as the characters.
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