Friday, November 8, 2013
Chasing Shakespeare: A Labor of Love
Movie Review: Chasing Shakespeare
Director: Norry Niven
Reviewed: 8 November 2013
Director Norry Niven and writer James Bird have collaborated to craft a fine, moving film entitled Chasing Shakespeare, featuring several parallel story lines, an intriguing and eye-catching color palette, and a lightness of spirit captured by an enjoyable cast from young unknowns to familiars such as Danny Glover and Graham Greene. Niven's attention to detail and economy of story make this film brimming to the top with emotion, and I was surprised by how enjoyable the story was.
I think that Niven's decision to open the film by focusing in narrowly on William and Venus (Danny Glover and Tantoo Cardinal), holding each other's hand in a lightning storm that knocks the power out of their house was a strong one. Niven thrusts the audience right into the emotional core of the film: this central relationship between a dying woman and her husband. The lightning casts shadows across their faces, they whisper to each other and complete recitations from a book of Shakespeare, and Venus persuades William to wheel her bed out into the lightning storm. It was powerfully rendered, and the entire rest of the movie succeeded because Niven grounded everything in that moment.
Older William wrestles with the death of his beloved as well as his relationship with estranged son in a small, rural Arkansas town. As he does, Niven flashes back to younger William (Mike Wade, more than capable) and younger Venus (Chelsea Ricketts, charming in a role that could have easily turned into annoying), a Native American girl desirous of earning the lead in the county production of Romeo & Juliet. The casual racism of the times informs Venus that she "doesn't have the right look" for the role, yet she remains undaunted in her attempts. She similarly pursues William, and the lightest, most fun moments of the film involve the flirting, the courting, and the gruff oversight by the grandfatherly Mountain (Graham Greene), a mysterious and mystical figure who tells William of his family's lightning clan connections and seems to possess supernatural powers. The stories cut and cross back and forth in a confident and intriguing way, as the film mirrors William's memories and current grief. In that way, I found it more challenging than a conventional film, and that challenge helps the film overcomes some of its shortcomings in the script (some clunky dialogue and characters, a few scenes that were missing a payoff, particularly one featuring a performance of The Tempest on a Broadway balcony).
And the Shakespeare connections are wonderful. Niven's film celebrates the written word and the act of reading as well as how the past informs the present. Some of the film's final moments reach out for maudlin sentiment, but I know that I was genuinely moved to tears by the film's denouement (as was the entire row sitting behind me at the screening), and the visuals were crisp, colorful, and always interesting. Norry Niven may have interviewed for directing jobs alongside contemporary Zack Snyder, but in terms of infusing a film with soul and emotional power, Niven triumphs in this confident, uncynical work of art. Although millions more will have seen millions perish under cascading skyscrapers of Metropolis in Man of Steel this summer by Zack Snyder, audiences should see Norry Niven's Chasing Shakespeare.
When a character dies it really means something, and it should mean something.