Nov 28, 2007

Frank Langella: Getting Better With Age

There are actors who get worse with time. They become caricatures of themselves. Two examples that come to mind are Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, two great actors who became unbearable to watch in later life. In the case of Frank Langella, the opposite has happened. I don't think he was ever a mediocre actor, but now that he is older, he is a giant. I've seen him onstage twice and my jaw has dropped in amazement both times. Once in a Noel Coward play where he played a flamboyant queen and he was hilarious and powerful and mesmerizing and human; and in Frost/Nixon, where he played Richard Nixon way beyond the easy caricature. He was awesome.
Now he plays a former famous novelist in the very literary movie Starting Out in The Evening. And he is so quiet and restrained and so powerfully internalized, I'm guessing Oscar nomination too, if somebody takes the trouble to watch the small, fine film. It is delightful to see Lili Taylor again, playing his intense New York daughter. She holds her own as usual, with great intensity. As for Lauren Ambrose (formerly of 6 Feet Under), she tries very hard and almost succeeds in portraying an ambitious graduate student who insinuates herself into the life of the famous novelist. She gives a brave performance, but she fidgets, and makes faces and shows every tic in the book, which may not be the best way to go when you are faced with a Totemic force like Frank Langella, who is a study in the emotional power of stillness.
Kudos to my pals, cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian and Manuel Billeter, the camera operator (and dp of my own little short -- gotta do the plug), for making this movie, shot in HD video, look like a film, very beautiful.

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