Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Kelly Macdonald quietly dazzles in Turtletaub, Mann and Moverman's remake, PUZZLE

I was blown away by the Argentine film, Puzzle, written and directed by first-timer by Natalia Smirnoff, when it was first released in the USA back in 2011, and though it never crossed my mind that the film needed remaking in English, now that PUZZLE is here -- directed by Marc Turtletaub with a screenplay by Polly Mann and Oren Moverman -- I must admit that the new version is almost as good -- hell, maybe every bit as good -- as the original.

Mr. Turtletaub, shown at left, is best known as a producer with some major winners under his belt, but he has done quite a fine job in this -- his second full-length directorial stint -- of bringing to life a small-scale tale of a subdued and somewhat cowed housewife named Agnes who discovers that she has a penchant for solving jigsaw puzzles at a very fast pace.

Turtletaub and his writers are helped no end by their leading performer, perhaps the most under-sung top-notch actress working today: Kelly Macdonald (shown below), who is simply so perfect in this role that her every moment resonates, each one bringing us closer to fully understanding this unusual woman, even as she begins to better understand herself and her (so far) unrequited needs.

Agnes is mother/wife to two nearly-grown kids and a kindly-if-old-fashioned husband (the terrifically real and moving David Denman below) who genuinely loves his wife but hasn't a clue to what's going on inside her. One of the great strengths of the movie (as was true of the original version) is that, though its main concern lies with the wife and her growth/change, it is able to view the husband (and to some extent the children) with the kind of care and empathy that has you rooting for them all.

It has been a few years since I've seen the original film, but as I recall the character of our heroine's puzzle partner was a stronger, more complete one in the original. Here, as played as well as the script permits by Irrfan Khan (below, left), that character is reduced somewhat. This matters less than you might expect, however, because the film is so much more focused on Agnes and her family.

Ms Macdonald charts Agnes' inner journey so well and with such specificity that we're with her entirely -- even when, on occasion, she's unfair to those around her. Growth and change come at a price and not always so easily, and the film honors this idea, as well.

Suburban life for a woman who has known only family, friends and church is made unusually clear here; breaking free into new ideas and activities has seldom seemed as invigorating, too. And if you imagine that Puzzle is going to come down to the usual choice by a woman between one man or another, the movie is too genuinely feminist and too concerned with real growth and change to make things that simple.

This is one of the best films of the year -- as was the original in its own year -- and it deserves as wide a viewership as possible. And Ms Macdonald, giving the best performance I've seen all year, deserves an Oscar -- or at very least a nomination.

From Sony Pictures Classics and running 103 minutes, Puzzle, after hitting major cities over the past few weeks, opens here in South Florida this Friday, August 10. In the Miami area, it will play the AMC Aventura 24; in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters, Cinemark Palace 20 and the Regal Shadowood 16; at the Cinemark 14 in Boynton Beach; the Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie; at the Silverspot Cinema, Coconut Creek; at the Movies of Delray; and in Fort Lauderdale at the Classic Gateway 4. Wherever you live across the country, to find a theater near you, click here (then click on GET TICKETS on the right side of your screen).

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