The Greatest

8 Jul

Title: The Greatest
Year: 2009
Director: Shana Feste
Writer: Shana Feste
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, Carey Mulligan, Johnny Simmons, Aaron Johnson, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Shannon
MPAA Rating: R, language, some sexual content and drug use
Runtime: 96 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%

I will give The Greatest a good grade, but that grade is based solely on the strength of its cast and the performances each member of it gives, but the fact is that the screenplay of this film, written by the film’s director while she babysitted, is vague at its best, and confusing way too often, and it’s what keeps this film from being truly outstanding.

The film’s premise is set-up quickly enough, we have two teenagers who are deliciously in love, they have had the sort of relationship in which they look at each other all the time and their looks make it obvious to each other about how they feel about one another, that’s how they go at it for the duration of their school years, until the last day of their senior year, when he goes up to her, and then you know how it goes, they immediately fall for each other like they had been hungrily waiting to, they make love, and then, in the twist that makes the story go, their car gets hit by a truck, and he dies.

Then we go to the funeral scene, and we see three people at the back of funeral car, they’re the boy’s father, mother and younger brother. They don’t talk to each other. They don’t offer support to each other. They are grieving, but not carrying each other through their grief, each of them retreated into their own worlds, inconsolable inside their own hearts. The mother, Grace, is played by Susan Sarandon, who is terrific at everything she does, and has played the grieving mother wonderfully in the last decade in films like Moonlight Mile and again just a few years ago in In the Valley of Elah. Pierce Brosnan is impeccable as Allen, the father, who is trying to hold his family together after their son, who was ‘the greatest’ at everything he did, has passed away and left them all in shambles.

But then Rose, the girl, comes to their doorstep, you see, she’s pregnant and she moves in with them because she has no one, which is one of the first things that struck me as completely out of nowhere because, well, for one we never get a clear explanation as to why she has no one, add to that the fact that before this she was attending a good high school, was a great pianist, and, we would assume, had someone to take care of her after the crash that had killed her first lover, but yeah, we never get any explanations. What we do get though, is Carey Mulligan as Rose, and I’m not shy about my admiration of Mulligan who I think will be one of the best female actresses we’ll have for years to come, she’s fantastic as Rose, she plays her as good as an actor can play someone with no background story, I swear, this could have been a terrific film had the screenplay been improved.

Sarandon and Brosnan though, give the film’s two triumphant performances. Susan Sarandon is in her safe zone in this one, we know she can play this role in her sleep, as I already noted she has played essentially the same emotions within a different context at least twice before in the past eight years, she’s seriously grieving, she doesn’t care about her unborn grandchild, she just wants her child to be alive again, she wishes Rose had died instead of him.

Now back to the screenplay, my main beef with it is the missing-of-background-story for Rose, the inclusion of one would have added a dimension to the Rose character an actress as talented as Mulligan would have been able to exploit to her, and our, advantage, and give an even better performance. Then, there is a moment in the film in which the story seems to entertain the possibility of a romantic entanglement between Rose and Allen, even though we know that’s not going to happen, the film let’s us think it might, even though Allen was just trying to be friendly and understanding, I thought that subplot-tease was stupid, stupider though would have been if it actually happened, so let’s consider ourselves lucky it didn’t. Another thing I hated was the unexplainable elimination of Ryan’s, the younger brother, romantic subplot with a female member of his grief support group, that seemed to be happening and I liked it, especially because Zoe Kravitz, Lenny’s daughter, was playing said female, but then all of a sudden and with as much explanation as was given to Rose’s background, that was that, the grief support group scenes themselves though weren’t that great.

Then there’s also Jordan, the truck driver who killed the boy, he’s played by Michael Shannon, and he had a conversation with the boy before he died, but the truck driver himself then goes into a coma, and Grace sits at his bedside wanting to hear what went on in that conversation, and when Jordan awakes he tells her. From there we have a cliché festival, seriously, and it sucks, because the story is good, the acting is superb, and had a talented screenwriter taken a stab at this I could be giving it a solid A-grade because Sarandon is amazing, Brosnan is equally as solid and Mulligan is also excellent, even though, as I keep saying, she could have, and should have, been given much more to work with.

But this is still a good film, it’s a great examination of what it is to have a loved one taken away from you, the extreme grief that surrounds the families, the extreme situations that may arise, and yeah, the clichés are all over the place, especially towards the end, and the script lacks a lot, but in a year that gave us two Nicholas Sparks adaptations, The Last Song and Dear John, to deal with similar topics this is completely welcomed and lets us see how a marriage deals with the death of a child, how they try and survive it and how an expecting mother’s feelings are based on a profound sadness and loneliness. For a film that just wants to hit the rawness and emotional side of it all it unfortunately has to count on a script that’s emblematically formulaic but thankfully it has a series of outstanding performance to keep it afloat.

Grade: B


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