When the Golden Globes ended, Oscar season officially began. Plenty of movies most people had heard of or cared about finally had a global stage on which they could be recognized. The Wife was one of those films which had come and gone quickly from theaters but the Best Actress win helped put it on the map. With plenty of modern social awareness, the Swedish made film forged the narrative of an often marginalized position.
This movie begins and ends with an absolutely brilliant performance by Glenn Close. Brilliant may not even be a strong enough descriptor to explain just how masterful of a performance this was. She’s captivating right off the bat and her slow brooding intensity is volcanic. If the title wasn’t a dead giveaway, she plays the wife of a prominent author who’s about to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. While the pair is initially taken aback by the award, tension in their marriage begins to surface as they make the journey to Stockholm, Sweden for the ceremony. Close’s character Joan has been holding on to some burdensome secrets for a long time in order to further her husband’s career but, after a lifetime of swallowing her resentment, finally reaches her breaking point. Such a large part of this portrayal is in the subtle nuance of her facial expressions and mannerisms, it’s really amazing and refreshing to see just how much emotion can be conveyed without any words at all. This was the best performance by an actress in 2018 by a fairly wide margin and, after a long and illustrious career with plenty of runner-up finishes, she absolutely deserves the Academy Award for Best Actress this time around. It would be a shame to see the Oscar go home with anyone else.
Close is definitely the star of the show but it’s a bit surprising to see an almost complete lack of recognition for her dance partner, Jonathan Pryce. He won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Capri Hollywood International Film Festival but that’s about as far it goes. Pryce has been in the business for a long time and surprisingly hasn’t even been nominated for an Academy Award. His portrayal of Joe Castleman, a charismatic but hopeless narcissistic, is essential in highlighting not just Close’s performance but the strengths of her character as well. He is a brazen philanderer but also completely insecure. Pryce walks that line with great precision and his character serves to exemplify the unfair burden placed on women by a male-dominated world. Best Supporting Actor is always a competitive category but Pryce’s performance should certainly have landed him on the short list over a couple of those other names.
Swedish filmmaker Björn Runge has been around the business for a long time but this was an impressive leap for a director who had been mostly confined to the “foreign film” genre. Based on the Meg Woltizer of the same name, Runge directed the film from a Jane Anderson screenplay that’s penned wonderfully. Far too often, movies about writers tend to be poorly written and poor dialogue has a unique way of sapping authenticity from the whole project…even though the character’s literary work isn’t under the microscope in this particular film. The two main characters are razor sharp and it’s easy to see the veracity in the dialogue they share with and spew at one another. Anderson not only displayed an exceptional understanding of the source material but how to frame in the broader social context as well. Many filmmakers would feel the need to put their fingerprints all over this but Runge wisely set the table allowed the fantastic script and his remarkable actors to do the majority of the heavy lifting. I’m honestly surprised to see this movie only received the one Oscar nomination, it’s really well made across the board and was one of the better overall films I saw from 2018 but suffers from its standing as an international film. Regardless, keep an eye out for both Runge and Anderson in the near future.
The powerhouse performances at the front certainly lead the way but it would be an oversight on my part not to mention Christian Slater’s performance. During the early 90s, he quickly became one of Hollywood’s brightest stars but that momentum was gone heading into the 2000s. He has stayed busy with roles in countless TV series and lesser known films but this was a solid return to form for him. Playing the often duplicitous Nathaniel Bone, Slater found a steady rhythm in his pursuit of cannibalizing the other characters for personal gain. It was a performance in which he worked especially well with Close coming across as both loathsome and admirable.
Because the film flows so effortlessly thanks to Close’s performance, it’s easy to overlook the completeness of this film. Jocelyn Pook crafted a really nice score to complement the tension and internal torment of the characters. Many of the most emotional moments ar quietly heightened by her music while still maintaining a light touch. Similarly, Ulf Brantås shot a very simple but effective story using a selection of intense close-ups and medium shots when the characters were engaged with one another. Subtlety isn’t often rewarded in the film industry but it should at least be acknowledged. It all added up to one of the year’s better films, even if that was lost on most.
Recommendation: It’s certainly catered towards an older audience but is still worth seeing for Close’s performance. Thanks in large part to the Golden Globes and Oscars, theaters have added additional showings so it may be easier to see for the time being. It may be more digestible at home, so waiting for it to come to you isn’t a bad option either.