Wednesday 26 August 2009

Last Chance Harvey Review - August 2009

It could just be me, but I seem to stumble onto quality films these days. Rather than seeing a great trailer at the cinema or reading a positive review that compels me to seek out a film - I'm finding that the process of association is leading me to the gold. It is through this method that I eventually found time to watch 'Last Chance Harvey' starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Released over Christmas 2008 (February 2009 in Australia), it received two Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor and Actress and if you have seen the movie, it is not hard to figure out why. The association in question was the brilliant movie 'Stranger than Fiction' starring Will Ferrell in a role that stands so far above his other work; you wonder if it is the truly the same actor we've seen in classy films like 'Step Brothers', 'Semi-Pro' & 'Old School'. Although admittedly 'Anchorman' is hilarious. Both Hoffman and Thompson co-star in 'Stranger than Fiction' and despite only sharing screen time in a handful of minutes - the chemistry between them simply cried out for a re-union in a feature film. Writer and director of 'Last Chance Harvey', Joel Hopkins could not have chosen a more perfect pair of leads for his big push into Hollywood and Hoffman and Thompson do not disappoint. The central plot involves struggling TV jingle producer Harvey Shine's (Hoffman) visit to England for his daughter's wedding and the new lease on life he discovers as a result of losing his job when he misses his flight back to the USA. His first meeting with English Information Officer Kate Walker (Thompson) is fleeting and cold, something that helps establish the emotional state of both leads. Hoffman wastes no time selling his character as someone who seems run down by life and Thompson gives every indication her character has let life pass her by. There are some nice sub-plots throughout the film; including Shine's relationships with his ex-wife and daughter, the over reliance on Kate by her paranoid mother, the changing attitudes of Shine's boss, Kate's friend's desire to set her up and the best of them all - Kate's mother's conspiracy theory regarding her new Polish neighbour. They range from sweet to sour and in some cases mix perfectly. But back to the chemistry that Hoffman and Thompson teased us with in 'Stranger than Fiction'. By taking the time to show us who Shine and Walker are before they meet, Hopkins can open the floodgates to who they want to be, with an engrossing lunch scene at Heathrow Airport. It starts predictably enough with a downtrodden Shine looking to the bottle for comfort, after he loses his job and receives some painful news from his own daughter prior to her wedding ceremony earlier that day. Also in the restaurant is Walker, who works in the airport and is having her lunch while reading a trashy romance novel. All it takes is one look from Shine to realise Walker is the woman he shut down leaving the plane a day earlier, and he offers her an apology and a drink. I won't ruin the rest of the scene - but the way Hoffman and Thompson bounce off each other is magnificent. So what else can you expect? * Well halfway through the film you'll notice just how short Hoffman is compared to Thompson. A realisation that brings much mirth for the second half of the film. * Thompson's delivery of the line 'Shut up Harvey' is superb... given of course Hoffman has not said a thing and is saying everything through his eyes and smile. * The most endearing aspect to the Hoffman-Thompson chemistry is that there is very little use of lust to sell the attraction. They come across as the friend's you'd invite to dinner at your house, rather than going out to eat just to be seen with. * Hopkins gets away with a dressing room montage sequence... barely! * You get to hear Hoffman say the word 'salubrious'. * And finally, beyond the great writing, acting and settings in the film - we get a resolution to the sub plot between the mother and the Polish neighbour. Something well worth waiting through the first few credits to see. There is one plot turn that seemed a tad predictable and unnecessary, as it holds up the story rather than really deepening it as I suspect was the intention. But you can decide for yourself if this exists. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this film (beyond the pairing of Hoffman and Thompson) is that Hopkins has found ways to maintain 'real moments' in his film. There is not an overuse of multiple camera angles, makeup or dazzling scenery (although London and the Thames in particular feature heavily) to give the impression you're in a fantastic place - just enough cultural surrounds to sell the reality of the story. The result is a reality that sees your focus remain steadfastly on the characters. And at the heart of this story is a romance. But not one found on a physical attraction that leads to an emotional connection, but one that is honest, relatable and real. Do yourself a favour and see this movie. Hopefully it won't be the last chance we get to see Hoffman and Thompson together on screen. MOVIE RATING: - 4 1/2 STARS. Available to rent or buy on DVD & Blue Ray