****WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING!!****
Mr. Turner, written and directed by Mike Leigh, tells the story of the career and life of famed British artist J.M.W. Turner. Timothy Spall stars as the enigmatic painter, known for his epic seascapes and landscapes, whose life spanned from 1775 to 1851.
Mr. Turner is an odd film about an odd man. Turner is at times eccentric, at other times, eccentrically conventional. His personal life, from his uniquely inappropriate relationship with his housekeeper, to his cold, distant and publicly unacknowledged relationship with his two children and their mother, and eventually to his hidden yet seemingly traditional relationship with a twice widowed inn-keeper, is as convoluted as it is secretive. Turner compartmentalizes his life to such a degree that he actually lives multiple lives concurrently and rarely, if ever, do they intertwine or even know the other exists. Turner's undoubtedly intricate emotional life is in direct contrast to his great works of art, sprawling land and seascapes. It is from his internal, emotional and personal tumult that Turner is able to capture such vast, epic scenes in his paintings, yet fills them with a meticulously exact humanity.
There is a problem with Mr. Turner, and it is a pretty simple one, the structure of the story is unsound which ultimately leaves the film unsatisfying in a dramatic and storytelling sense. The story is just not clear cut enough dramatically for the film to ultimately be a successful storytelling venture. The narrative never truly takes hold, nor does the personal drama, so we are left with just a tale about a man, albeit a very interesting and brilliant one, and his march through life. The script needed to be more definite and clear cut in it's dramatic framework in order to make the story emotionally gratifying for viewers. That does not mean it has to have a happy ending, not by any means, but it does mean the story must have a more defined purpose and arch in order for Turner's journey to feel dramatically imperative, even if it ends with an ambiguous tragedy, as all life does.
That is not to say I didn't enjoy Mr. Turner, quite the contrary. Mr. Turner is without question, one of the most visually stunning films I have seen in recent years. Cinematographer Dick Pope, who is nominated for an Academy Award for his work, is truly the star of the film. With every single scene in Mr. Turner, you could stop the projector and put a frame around the picture on screen and hang it in any of the great museums of the world. It is one masterpiece after another with Pope's cinematography, and it is obviously a major part of the film and the telling of the story of Turner and his own visual genius. Even when the story of Mr. Turner was less than thrilling, Pope's cinematography was always breathtakingly sensational and more than worthy of the price of admission.
The other aspect of the film I enjoyed was Timothy Spall's performance as Turner. Spall is always a very intriguing actor, and his work here is full of an internal vitality and precision that is captivating to watch. Mr. Turner is really, in terms of narrative, just a character study, but Spall's attention to emotional detail and specificity of intention creates an, at times poignant, at times distressing, but always compelling, portrait. The supporting actors are all so superb that I cannot single just one out, their work was outstanding across the board. Even the background actors do truly exemplary work with a focused attention to detail which is of great benefit to the film.
Director Mike Leigh, who has seven much-deserved Oscar nominations to his name for previous films, such as Vera Drake and Secrets and Lies, is well known for his unique actor-centric approach to filmmaking. He is an unconventional filmmaker who successfully makes unconventional films. Mr. Turner feels like it is either a little too conventionally unconventional, or a little too unconventionally conventional to be considered a complete artistic success. It is, like most of Mike Leigh's films, a character study, but thanks to cinematographer Dick Pope, it is a visually lush character study, with Timothy Spall's well crafted performance at it's center. If you are a fan of Mike Leigh's previous films, you will appreciate this one, maybe not as much as Vera Drake or Secrets and Lies, but you will 'enjoy' it nonetheless. If you are not a fan of Mike Leigh, this might not be the film for you, but you could always just go to marvel at the beauty of both J.M.W. Turner's and Dick Pope's visual genius, you won't be disappointed.
FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , THE IMITATION GAME , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , CAKE .