Ever since he threw that phone at the hotel lobby boy, or possibly since his dalliance with Meg Ryan, acting has been a secondary factor in the career of Russell Crowe. Even his rounded performance in Les Mis was dismissed in preference of criticising his singing ability (it was fairly terrible).
With Fathers and Daughters, however, Crowe’s acting is back front and centre.
After the death of his wife, writer Jake (Crowe) must care for his daughter, despite suffering from extreme depression, side effects of which include seizures. 25 years on, his all-grown-up daughter Kate (Amanda Seyfried) struggles forming new relationships.
Simply from the description of each timeline, it isn’t hard to figure out which is the more interesting (hint: it’s the Crowe one).
The main problem with Fathers and Daughters is that it thinks its characters are more complex than they actually are. The older Kate is one of these “Oh aren’t I so complicated because I sleep with a lot of men” female characters, an already tired archetype. She sexes and frets her hour upon the screen in an array of clichéd and tedious situations, a dreadfully dull ‘broken but beautiful’ woman.
Her younger counterpart isn’t much better. It feels harsh to criticise a 7-year-old girl, especially one whose default setting is absolutely adorable, but there’s not much else to her.
It’s Crowe we’re here to see. To see if he still has it. And he does. Jake’s seizures are real and uncomfortable, although naturally showy. It’s the quieter scenes in which Crowe excels, the moments in which he must bottle up the rage/sadness/fear, allowing just enough to seep through, while remaining calm and responsible on the outside. It’s no Gladiator, but it’s no A New York Winter’s Tale either.
Although some of the most lauded films are about writers (The Shining, Misery, Barton Fink), the actual art of writing is not all that cinematic. Just think how hard director David Fincher had to work in the Social Network to make Zuckerberg hammering away on a keyboard feel exciting. The director of Fathers and Daughters (Gabriele Muccino, The Pursuit of Happyness) is probably too aware of this fact, and so the camera zoooooooooooomssss in and out and around and up and down and has nearly as many steadicam shots as Birdman. Why put it on a tripod when you can put it on a crane, attached to a dolly, filming at a low frame rate so everything seems faster?
It’s a joy to watch as the camera rockets around, sometimes motivated to do so, sometimes for no logical reason at all.
Although Fathers and Daughters attempts to deal with issues of mental illness and childhood tragedy, it’s too clean to carry any real weight. The film is summed up in a moment in which Kate must emotionally run across the city. Although having ran the entire way, she arrives at her destination without so much as a bead of sweat on her.
The scene that follows is emotional fuelled, but, much like the entire film, never quite feels completely authentic.
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