This is one of those radical change-your-image performances that tries too hard to defy our expectations. Kidman has indeed proved in the past to be quite versatile, but this muddled, scabrous, neo-noir procedural does her no great favors.
The casting of Jones as Ginsburg might have seemed like a good idea, but, as fine an actress as she is, she can’t quite manage to bring the future Supreme Court justice to life, perhaps because it’s tough to animate cardboard. She’s stiff and humorless.
Roberts, in her “serious” performances, is often a tad too stiff and monochromic, but she works well here with Hedges, who knows how to be volatile without chewing the scenery. They are quite believable as mother and son.
Kore-eda’s slow reveal of who these people are, and what they mean to each other, has its mystery story aspects, but this is essentially a character study, or at least it tries to be, and not a puzzle picture. He fills in each of the main players leisurely, in snatches.
The actresses are so expert, especially Colman, with her grievous, hardbitten woe, that you may not care, but if one is to mock this sort of historical extravaganza, I much prefer the nutbrain Monty Python approach to all this deep-dish folderol.
As evocative and soulful as I found parts of this movie, I experienced these stylistics as more evasion than immersion. Cuarón is so careful to avoid overdramatizing the narrative that his steady-state underplaying ends up seeming equally coercive. But this is not how we are supposed to react to “Roma.” We are supposed to regard it as “real life.”
Mortensen, who reportedly put on thirty pounds for the role, starts out playing Tony like a big lug but as the road trip ensues he brings all sorts of subtle shadings to the role. He even comes to appreciate Doc’s artistry. In Tony’s eyes, he’s right up there with Liberace.
Jackman, sporting a distracting, Hart-like brown hairpiece, seems miscast. He doesn’t convincingly convey this politician’s swagger and slickness, and Reitman’s attempts to mimic a loose-limbed political movie in the style of, say, Robert Altman’s “Tanner '88” series or “The Candidate” are rather leaden. It’s a film that’s less interesting to watch than to discuss afterward.
How intently should we take Joel and Ethan Coen as artists? Despite their extreme unevenness and the flip misanthropy that runs through their work, I think they deserve to be taken seriously as such. In this new film, their extraordinary jeweler’s-eye attention to detail, their gift for concocting dialogue in plummy 19th-century vernacular, their lyrical embrace of wide-open landscapes, and their woeful nihilism that conceives of a world where paradise is always on the precipice of ruination are hallmarks of something much more than mere jokesterism.
First Man pays lip service to the politics of the cold war that surrounded the moon shot, but it’s not that kind of movie, really. For all its scale and ambition, it’s essentially a small-scale character study. The character, Armstrong, is microscopic, and the backdrop is macroscopic. It’s an odd, uneasy fit.