The Greatest is a small independent film released in 2009 featuring Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan and it’s title is appropriate because it features some of the greatest writing and acting of any movie I’ve seen. Writer and director Shana Feste makes a powerful and confident debut with this subtle yet emotional movie about loss and grief.
When Bennett (Aaron Johnson) is killed in a car accident the family is left to try and pick up the pieces of their lives. Sounds like a pretty straightforward plot right, maybe even a little dull. Well Feste manages to make this story a far more unique movie by throwing in a curve ball that really adds emotional depth and complexity to the plot. Bennett’s girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) survived the crash, and arrives at their house to tell the grieving father (played by Pierce Brosnan) that she is carrying the baby of his dead son. Pierce Brosnan does an excellent job playing this role, at first playing a stoic and almost emotionally deadened father just trying to keep it together for the sake of his wife (played by Susan Sarandon), before a very moving emotional climax.
Carey Mulligan and Pierce Brosnan have an excellent on-screen chemistry, they play genuinely off each other in such a believable fashion that you’d think you were watching a documentary on familial grief. Carey’s character, initially threatening to rip the family even further apart with the constant reminder of their son’s death growing in her belly, comes to be the only thing holding them together. Her performance is exemplary, and really captures both the plight of teen mothers and of spouses that have lost their partner. It’s a very subtle performance, you won’t find any huge explosive moments filled with teenage angst and hormones or self destructive behavior as other movies have done with the teen pregnancy storylines. Instead it comes down to the very emotional talks she has with every member of the family, acting as almost a councilor for the family despite her having many difficulties of her own.
The only weak link in the movie, in my opinion, is Susan Sarandon. She comes off as a near homicidal maniac one bad hair day away from turning this wonderful movie into a cheap version of SAW. Now, I certainly don’t know what a mother who lost her child would be going through at this point in the movie, perhaps Sarandon’s performance is right on the mark. But in the movie, it only detracts from the rest of the movie’s excellent and subtle emotional performance. Her eyes, for one thing, look as if their about to burst from her skull during several scenes, but that’s how she always looks so I won’t hold it against her. Her psychotic demeanor throughout the movie just leaves you constantly thinking that this movie will take a wrong turn down Murderizer lane. Throughout the movie I was hoping the family would either commit her to an asylum or, preferably, give her the Ol’ Yeller routine and tearfully put both barrels between her bewildered looking face. I truly think that another actress would have fit this role much better, Sarandon acts more as a distraction to the main movie than anything else.
Overall however, this is an excellent movie. The cinematography is low key, no fancy lens filters or dark lighting to tell you “Hey, your supposed to be sad!” as other movies have tried, no it all comes down to the actor’s performances to draw you in. The soundtrack is very mellow if a bit predictable, no vocals, but the usual sad violin and piano duets. But really, the acting and the superb story are why you should look this movie up. Don’t let his previous experience as the simple James Bond fool you, Pierce Brosnan is an excellent actor and really displays his talent in this film. And even though Susan Sarandon sort of detracts from the experience, it’s not enough to stop you from enjoying this film. So if you ever have a free night where you feel like watching an excellent emotional movie, rent “The Greatest”.