Sometimes all you need in a movie for it to be good is a great performance. In Francis E Lee’s ‘Ammonite,’ you get to: Kate Winslet’s and Saoirse Ronan’s. Without them, I really don’t know how the film would have held up. But with them in it, they make the whole thing soar.
Franci E Lee’s second feature has similarities to his first: there’s the love that dare not speak its name, there’s that love in an idyllic setting. ‘Ammonite’ is a lot of atmosphere as it is set in 1840s Lyme Regis in Southern England. And Lee knows how to do atmosphere well. In here, it really enhances – defines – Winslet’s character, Mary Anning, a paleontologist who spends her days looking for rocks, and fossilizing what she finds. When she meets Charlotte (Ronan) her life changes.
There isn’t much narrative, to be honest. But both actresses make up for it. They start off cold, but bring enough passion in their performances that ultimately you believe in their love. You may not necessarily be swept away by it, though – this film is subtle with sentimentality – but there isn’t a doubt in your head by its existence. Winslet is truly fantastic here, a woman who never wallows in her existence. On the other hand, Ronan as Charlotte rises from the wallowing, and that’s when you can see the fires in their. love.
If ‘Blackbird’ was done well, it would have been a movie right up my alley. It’s one of those family dramas, and of course this one is a dysfunctional family who gets together for one last weekend with their matriarch, played by Susan Sarandon. She has some kind of degenerative disease, and has decided to ‘take care of things.’ See: euthanasia. It’s a polarizing topic but here the decision is treated like deciding which schmear to put on your bagel.
That’s only the beginning of the film’s problems – each of the children have ‘quirks,’ all cookie-cutter traits we have all seen before in better films, though the cast tries best in making the characters feel real. But the likes of Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowksi are not miracle workers, and there’s only so much they can wring out of a flat screenplay. And I am sorry, the whole time I am watching this I cannot help but think that Sarandon is a big Trump supporter so I cannot just fully get on with things.
Kate Winslet has become one of my favorite actresses – she can be funny and serious on the same breath, and you believe both parts of her instantly. There’s an honesty in her performance and she can play anyone – period, modern, everything in between. I was mesmerized by her portrayal of Myrtle ‘Tilly’ Dunnage, the dressmaker who goes back to her hometown to seek revenge from the people who drove her away from town. And she is hilarious when the situation calls for it. Winslet even rises above the tedious melodrama here. The film never strikes the right balance, though – the said melodrama can be extremely petty, and the black humor wasn’t catching me. I found myself rolling my eyes a couple of times. There are a lot of things that distract – Liam Hemsworth is male beauty personified here as her love interest, and there are great character performances by Hugo Weaving as the cross-dressing sheriff and Judy Davis as Tilly’s bitter mother. But almost all characters are written as cartoons, so when they are placed in soap opera situations, they are not nearly as effective. I got bored through most of the film, and felt Winslet’s performance was wasted.