The Natural 1984 ***

Alongside Out of Africa, The Natural represents the last significant entries in Robert Redford’s career as a top movie star. Later to reinvent himself as a guru of indie-film-making via Sundance, Redford was smart enough to forge a career when audiences were no longer blown away by his golden boy looks. But in his heyday, he was happy to trade on them, and this adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s novel is a serious-minded baseball story that elevates Roy Hobbs (Redford) to near Messianic-levels. Glenn Close plays his sweet girlfriend, Barbara Hershey is a predictably dark femme fatale, and Robert Duvall dispenses homilies. The problem with The Natural is that for all the sumptuous period detail evoked by Barry Levinson’s direction, the feel-good ending, straight out of a late Rocky movie, is completely at odd with the book’s conclusion, and takes the King Arthur theme far too literally. With a magic bat called Wonderboy instead of Excalibur, The Natural is a literate and intelligent film that sells-out at the crucial moment.

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Dangerous Liaisons 1988 ****

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Adapting a epistolary novel is no easy task; the Choderlos de Laclos novel taken on by writer Christopher Hampton for his stage success explores a complex narrative from a number of different points of view, with no narrator and a series of deceptive letters instead. Although Milos Forman’s Valmont was underrated, Stephen Frears does a pin-sharp job with this period film, with Glenn Close a scheming Madame de Merteuil, Michelle Pfeiffer an innocent caught in the crossfire, and John Malkovich sporting several wigs at once as the playboy the Vicomte de Valmont. Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves and Peter Capaldi all contribute neat work, and the labyrinthine ways in which the characters snare each other, and eventually themselves, makes for a classy, engrossing romp through sexual misadventure.

The Big Chill 1983 *****

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The perfect example of a talkfest movie, Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 movie saw the writer director graduate from his Indiana Jones scripting to direct this thoughtful portrait of a group of friends reunited for one weekend after the death of their estranged friend Alex (a barely seen Kevin Costner). There’s at least on direct Raiders call-back, with a character singing the theme song as he battles a bat, and tv actor Sam Weber (Tom Berenger) appears to have been based on Tom Selleck, who famously passed on the role of Indy. Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum and William Hurt all convey a convincing rapport as the group, and Kasdan’s gift for dialogue peppers the script with smart one-liners mixed with hidden melancholy. The soundtrack looks back to the 60’s, but The Big Chill’s portrait of baby-boomers reassessing their lives is a timeless, joyful slice of Americana; it’s The Breakfast Club for grown-ups.

Albert Nobbs 2011 ***

Glenn Close picked up an Oscar nomination for this original and intriguing film; she plays Albert Nobbs, a meticulous butler living in late 19th century Ireland. The arrival of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) at the Dublin hotel Nobbs works in predicates a crisis for both of them; they understand each other’s secrets, as they are both women who manage to make their living by pretending to be men and duping everyone else as to their real gender. Page and Nobbs develop a friendship that promises an escape; a scene where they take a liberated run down the beach in women’s clothing is a remarkable feat of acting in that they look like men in drag. Having played Nobbs onstage, Close delivers a sensationally androgynous performance, McTeer matches her, and the supporting cast, including Brendan Gleeson, Pauline Collins and Mia Wasikowska create a vivid picture of a rarely documented sociological phenomenon, presented with taste and restraint by director Rodrigo Garcia. Screen-story credited to Istvan Szabo.