Pow­er­ful PER­FOR­MANCE

Glenn Close ex­e­cutes her role in ‘The Wife’ with grav­i­tas

Albuquerque Journal - - VENUE - BY ANN HOR­NA­DAY

When “The Wife” first ap­peared on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit last year, the call went up al­most im­me­di­ately: This, fi­nally, might be the movie to win Glenn Close the Os­car that has eluded her over the course of six nom­i­na­tions.

The movie is fi­nally hit­ting theaters, and it turns out the hype is true: Close de­liv­ers a breath­tak­ing per­for­mance in a film that is nom­i­nally an adap­ta­tion of a Meg Wolitzer novel but could just as eas­ily have been re­verse-engi­neered pre­cisely to ex­ploit the lead ac­tress’s sin­gu­lar ex­pres­sive gifts. “The Wife” is a hand­some pro­duc­tion that del­i­cately skew­ers lit­er­ary-world pre­ten­sions and Great Man myth­mak­ing. But pri­mar­ily, “The Wife” of­fers view­ers a chance to ob­serve one of the finest — and most crim­i­nally un­der­praised — ac­tresses of her gen­er­a­tion work­ing at the very top of her shrewd, sub­tle, su­perbly self­con­trolled game.

As “The Wife” opens, Joan Castle­man (Close) has just set­tled in for the night with her hus­band, Joe (Jonathan Pryce), a fa­mous nov­el­ist. Around 5 a.m. the next day, the phone rings, Joe picks up and his life is changed: He’s just won the No­bel Prize in lit­er­a­ture.

Direc­tor Bjorn Runge stages the mo­ment per­fectly, con­vey­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously the Castle­mans’ ex­cite­ment and the fact that they were ex­pect­ing it all along. Mo­ments later, Joan and Joe are jump­ing on the bed like kids, sing-song­ing, “I won the No­bel.”

Or was that “we?” That’s the ques­tion that an­i­mates the rest of a film that takes place on the cou­ple’s trip to Swe­den, where Joan re­flects on her life with Joe, the sub­ju­ga­tion of her own lit­er­ary am­bi­tions to serve his, and an in­escapable re­al­iza­tion about their re­la­tion­ship that she has re­pressed but can stay hid­den no longer. Like a cat-and-mouse game of egos, ex­pec­ta­tions and psy­cho­log­i­cal

flip-flops, “The Wife” un­spools in a se­ries of chance en­coun­ters, flash­backs and mo­ments of dawn­ing con­scious­ness that are chore­ographed with un­der­state­ment and pre­ci­sion. In one se­quence alone — when Joe and Joan are be­ing in­tro­duced to their lo­cal Stock­holm han­dlers, for ex­am­ple — an en­tire un­spo­ken code of power and peck­ing or­der is ex­pressed sim­ply by who’s stand­ing where.

The mys­tery of Joe and Joan’s past drives the nar­ra­tive ten­sion of “The Wife,” and it’s given an added air of au­then­tic­ity by Close’s real-life daugh­ter, An­nie Starke, play­ing her as a younger woman. Of­ten those flash­backs are prompted by Nathaniel Bone, a pushy wouldbe bi­og­ra­pher who has fol­lowed the Castle­mans to Swe­den and plies Joan with glasses of vodka to learn the truth about the Roth­ian rock star she’s mar­ried to. Por­trayed by Chris­tian Slater with a tricky com­bi­na­tion of self-in­ter­est and gen­uine con­cern, Nathaniel is a fig­ure of puck­ish dis­rup­tion; the bar scene with Close is one of the film’s finest, as she seems to blush on cue af­ter a maybe-flir­ta­tious come-on.

If the un­der­cur­rents with Nathaniel are play­ful and wary, Joan’s in­ter­play with Joe is even more para­dox­i­cal, chang­ing course from out­rage to mu­tual de­light in a nanosec­ond. One of the things “The Wife” gets grat­i­fy­ingly right is how con­tra­dic­tory emo­tions can co­ex­ist in a mar­riage that, over time, be­comes ever more grooved with joys, dis­ap­point­ments and be­tray­als big and small.

As crafty as “The Wife” is as it wends its way through its own shift­ing dy­nam­ics, it is through Close’s per­for­mance that the story’s emo­tional arc is made man­i­fest. Whether she’s fend­ing off a nosy writer, po­litely brush­ing off a so­lic­i­tous min­der or pla­cat­ing her in­se­cure son (Max Irons) in the film’s least con­vinc­ing scenes, Joan is a paragon of self pos­ses­sion and quiet but steely will.

That ve­neer will ul­ti­mately crack, but in Close’s finely cal­i­brated por­trayal, the fault lines are just barely vis­i­ble. The film’s cli­mac­tic scene fea­tures the ac­tress sit­ting com­pletely still, her face a mask of al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble anger that gives way to en­gulf­ing rage be­fore our eyes, seem­ingly with­out Close do­ing a thing. This is screen act­ing at its finest. Close has been do­ing such good work for so long that it’s been easy to take her for granted, be­fore and af­ter “Fa­tal At­trac­tion.” With “The Wife,” she has been given the per­fect plat­form to de­clare that, like her char­ac­ter in that film, and like Joan in this one, she will not be ig­nored.

COURTESY OF SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in “The Wife.”

COURTESY OF SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

Chris­tian Slater, Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce in a scene from “The Wife.”

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