Arriving in theaters on December 23, ‘Living’ looks at Bill Nighy as a man who chooses to try and live even in the face of death and is one of the most heartwarming and moving films of the year.
Although his films have been adapted many times–– ‘Seven Samurai’ alone is the basis for many others–– it is still an intrepid filmmaker who chooses to work on one of Akira Kurosawa’s classic films.
In this case, the daredevils include writer Kazuo Ishiguro and director Oliver Hermanus, who brought a new version of Kurosawa’s 1952 play ‘Ikiru’ to the screen.
Rather than switching genres, the two faithfully adapted the story (with a few changes that shortened the run to under two hours), moving the setting from 1950s Tokyo to 1950s London. This was a smart choice, as postwar Britain’s themes and emotions are similar to those of Japan.
Bill Nighy –– which Ishiguro says is one of the reasons he thought the new film could be successful –– plays Mr. Williams, a quiet, button-down civil servant who works in a department of the London City Council.
He is so immersed in his duties and free from emotion that co-workers joke about him being known as “Mr. Zombies.” This is an apt description for a man who ostensibly seems alive, but only in the most basic of ways. A stiff upper lip rarely gets stiffer.
At work, he keeps his distance (though not always completely cold) from his colleagues and subordinates and is more concerned with shuffling paper than he cares about anyone’s feelings. But then, he was part of a generation of men who were raised to be appropriate and reserved, who had been through a global conflict that changed forever.
Later, at home, the widower still shyly confronts his son, Michael (Barney Fishwick), who is pushed by wife Fiona (Patsy Ferran), aiming to confront his father about selling the family home so they can raise money. to buy myself.
Williams’ world exploded (albeit quietly because she decided not to tell anyone at first) with a terminal cancer diagnosis. At least it spurred him into action, leaving a day job and heading to a coastal town in search of something more in life. She meets and associates with the disheveled, often drunken writer Mr. Sutherland (Tom Burke), who introduces her to the raunchy pleasures of burlesque shows and crowded pubs, but despite being open enough to start singing in one bar, Williams still feels buttoned. , complaining that when he finally seeks life, he is not good at it.
He at least finds solace in Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood), a young woman who used to work in his office before moving to a teahouse in search of a better job. Her positive energy has a real effect on him, their hallowed friendship becomes more than a motivator in his life, even if his son and daughter-in-law confront him about the potential scandalous Williams spending time with him––this is still 1950s London, don’t forget, where are people of his stature? expected to be appropriate.
And at work, she’s also become even more inspired, pushing to help a women’s group get a playground built on a piece of wasteland, seeing it as the most important legacy she can leave behind.
Opening with beautifully restored archival footage from the period before seamlessly blending into the film itself, ‘Living’ is a striking and moving achievement.
Much of that is credit to Nighy, who excelled in light comedy and heavy drama (and occasional blockbusters, acting through CG prosthetics in several ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films.)
Here, he is the perfect stone-faced performer for Williams, able to imbue the man with an aloof sense of authority that melts into human consciousness as time passes and the character learns of his destiny. Nighy can say more with a twitch of his lips than some actors can with a whole monologue.
Not that Ishiguro’s script wasn’t great––that is, it found new layers to the story that not even Kurosawa and his esteemed co-stars had explored.
Director Hermanus, meanwhile, stages everything with style and grace, a revival of British life at the time that emerges from the screen in different ways, whether it’s the carriage-riding jungle of suits and bowler hats at the start or the tent full of sordid behavior that Williams endures in his journey.
Dan Nighy is surrounded by some amazing supporting cast. Wood, a veteran of the Netflix series ‘Sex Education’ is an absolute delight here, his vivacious yet reserved Miss Harris being as much of a tonic to the audience as she was to Williams. The likes of Alex Sharp, Adrian Rawlings, and Oliver Chris shelter his co-workers even though they aren’t the biggest part of the story.
And the awkward scene between Williams and his son is a masterpiece of frozen British reserve, the emotions bubbling beneath the surface held in check.
If there’s one downside to the film, it’s in the pacing towards the end (which also affected the original). As soon as the inevitable hits Williams, they’re left adrift at sea, and the narrative is affected as well. A slightly too long speech from a cop who recalls seeing Williams sitting on a playground, he helps make reality feel uncomfortable and momentarily break the spell the film has cast so effectively.
Yet it’s an undeniable flaw in a film that rewards patience and confirms that Nighy is one of the best actors working today. Like Williams himself, he may appear cold and demure, but there is a big heart at work in ‘Living’.
‘Life’ received 4.5 out of 5 stars.
“It’s never too late to start over.”
LIFE is the story of an ordinary man, reduced by years of oppressive office routine to a shadowy existence, who at the eleventh hour desperately tries to f… Read the Plot