Woody Harrelson has garnered only two Oscar nominations in his 30-year career and while it’s too early in the warm-up to awards season to have any real idea of his chances of landing a third, The Glass
Castle (12A) ★★★★ certainly provides a timely reminder that, on his day, he can be very good indeed.
Based (fairly loosely) on the bestselling memoir by the American journalist Jeanette Walls, the film sees Harrelson playing Rex Walls, a volatile free-spirit who doesn’t want to be told what to do by anybody. His four young children don’t go to school, he moves endlessly from job to job, and the family’s regular moonlit flits always keep them one step ahead of the bailiffs. He’s a charismatic force of chaos but, unfortunately for Jeanette and her long-suffering siblings, he’s also a narcissist and a drunk. And their hippie-dippie, artistic mother, Rose (Naomi Watts), is no help – she’d prefer to paint than cook and thinks her husband, with his romantic daydream of building a glass castle for them all, is a genius. There are distinct echoes here of Captain Fantastic, another recent portrait of unconventional, off-the-grid family life, and of Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky too. But the execution is very impressive, despite the relative inexperience of director Destin Daniel Cretton. A deeply sentimental ending, however, does feel like a let-down. The Mountain Between Us (12A) ★★ is hard to warm to, partly because much of the action is set in a freezing mountainous wilderness and partly because it’s regularly too contrived and clunky for its own good. And that’s before we get to one of the most long-winded endings in film history.
Saving it from complete disaster are Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, the former playing an American journalist and the latter, rather less convincingly, a British neurosurgeon. When they bump into each other at the airport, she absolutely has to get to New York to get married while he’s due in Baltimore for an emergency operation. But there’s a big storm a-comin’ and all flights are cancelled. So why on earth would anyone think it was a good idea to charter a small plane flown by a Vietnam veteran who’s got ‘heart attack’ or ‘stroke’ written all over his face?
Little really rings true here, once the inevitable has happened. Their survival feels too easy, their good looks never disappear, and Winslet and Elba both wear the expressions of actors who know they will make better films than this.
Kate Winslet and Idris Elba in The Mountain Between Us