Man! My heroes keep falling. Whether it’s journalists I once respected like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer (both now relegated to the back page because of their sexual maneuvering), or my musical muse Michel Legrand who died recently at age 86. Now Albert Finney, that fine British actor known for his diversity of roles, has exited stage left at age 82.
You know, it’s interesting that the movie columnists laying out Albert’s life in obituaries have missed two of my favorite films. (Of course, let the record show I’m often at odds with Hollywood’s nods at stardom at the best of times. Gonna say it right here, right now, and risk the rep of an uncultured boor: What the hell is all the fuss about Roma!? Had I not been aware this film was up for countless Oscars, I would have bailed after the first 10 minutes. That opening sequence of water being sprayed on a tiled floor again... and again... and again... and again... left me scratching my head. And then watching some guy who we don’t even know spend an hour and a half parking his car - OK, it was likely a few minutes, but it seemed like a lifetime - I was left thinking this movie ain’t for me. Yes, Alfonso Cuarón figures it's his powerful personal story, and how swell of you to share it, Al. And sure, by the end, a plot had developed that was serviceable, but I was not deeply invested in the lives of most of those on camera because the director forbade me to get close. What's he got against close ups, the most powerful tool a director has? There, I’ve said it, and you can start heaping abuse on my philistine ways!)
“Two For The Road” is a wonderfully complex tale that demands the viewer’s attention. It was termed “complex and daring” at the time but I recall being blown away by the art of director Stanley Donen who deftly blends humour and pathos through a time-shifting screenplay that cleverly leaps back and forth, pitting Finney (subtly acting, at times lovable, at others a stinker) and Audrey Hepburn both for and against each other, making us root for them to triumph over the infidelity that threatens to destroy a once-great love. Of course, a wonderful score by Hank Mancini anchors the film beautifully (he considered the film’s theme his favorite composition). Let me quote from the IMDb review with their “Must see” rating: “[Audrey Hepburn] plays Joanna Wallace who with her husband played beautifully by Albert Finney reflect on the good times and the bad times of their twelve-year marriage. This film is must see because it goes beyond the happy ending and into actually imitating life where marriage is not always perfect. where marriage has fights and arguments and sometimes infidelity and hurt but love usually conquers all.”
The movie’s end avoids a treacly denouement of easy answers, letting the central characters reach a compromise at best. It is, indeed, a must-see, especially for Albert Finney’s “the art is to conceal the art” mastery. Why the obits omit this one is a mystery.
And then there’s the other film they missed: “Big Fish”. I own a DVD of this one and still tear up at the ending. Perhaps because my relationship with my father left me wanting (and likely him too), this fantastical story of reconciliation hits home, once again because of the fine, subtle work of Mr. Finney (notwithstanding great work by Ewan McGregor, another skilled performer). It would have been so easy to go over the top in his role of the dying Edward Bloom, yet Albert Finney plays it lovingly, both for laughs and for poignancy. He is wonderfully balanced by Jessica Lange, this in itself showcasing his strength of being able to share the screen with powerful actresses, not shy away from them. It's a wonderful Tim Burton film and if you haven't seen it, you really should. Finney's brilliant.
Fare thee well, Albert! And thanks for the memories.