Release Date: August 17th, 2018
Glenn Close has played a variety of great roles in her career. A mistress. A vice president. A lawyer. In those roles and in many others, she’s showcased her strength in many big, exciting moments. In her new title role in The Wife, she showcases her strength in smaller and more subtle ways. Standing on the sidelines of her husband’s grand triumph, she carries her strength with her like a burden she never wants to unpack.
It’s in watching her on those sidelines and standing in the shadows that we see Close powerfully capture the personality of a woman coming to grips with her own life choices.
Close stars as Joan Castleman, the wife of a well-established author. Jonathan Pryce co-stars as her husband Joe, a man who has just learned that he has won the Nobel Prize for literature. The couple – along with their son David (Max Irons) — travel to Stockholm together to celebrate the award.
It’s during a series of hectic days that we watch this family slowly unravel, revealing their true selves in the heat of the pomp and circumstance. Nathaniel Boone (Christian Slater), an aspiring biographer who wants to write Joe’s story, pushes the family in directions they didn’t expect they could go.
Director Björn Runge captures the film as a character study of Joan but does it in an unexpected way. The focus isn’t always on Joan — Joe is usually a more focal point in many of the scenes — but it’s Joan who really stands out. Joe, played with great vigor by Pryce, is a man whose smiling façade immediately captures the attention of his fans. It’s Joan’s quiet persistence that the viewer is more interested in.
With a small cast, Runge is able to drill deep into his characters especially the three main members of the Castleman family. Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan), a fourth member of the family, remains offscreen for most of the film. The only main character that doesn’t feel fully fleshed-out is Boone, who the audience never knows much about. His actions cause painful reactions but it’s never clear why he’s so infatuated with telling Joe’s story.
That being said, the filmmakers do a nice job showing the complexity of the relationships that Joan, Joe and David share. A powerful moment in the midst of an intense argument between Joan and Joe shows how the duo have remained so close for so long. The moment — focusing on the birth of their grandchild — is brief but its importance can’t be overstated. The couple has faced a lot of turmoil but when given the opportunity to come together, they do.
It’s undeniable that the movie wouldn’t have worked as well as it does without the great lead performances by Pryce and especially Close. These actors reveal more in the silence than they do when they’re speaking and the filmmakers take advantage of that. There are several powerful scenes where the camera simply captures Close, watching how she reacts to the world around her. Joan is a strong woman indeed but her strength is hidden to those who simply see her as the wife. She’s much more than that and viewers see that in this beautiful character study.
Review by: John Hanlon