Thank heavens for Glenn Close.
Among the finest actress of the stage and screen over the past half-century, she is a cinematic goddess who can make even the most insipid of projects (like, for instance, Albert Nobbs) sparkle. When, however, she's graced with a gangbusters screenplay, legit fireworks are bound to happen.
Such is precisely the case in The Wife, a picture that finds Close in her most compelling form since the likes of Dangerous Liaisons and Reversal of Fortune. As was the case in those two films (with John Malkovich and Jeremy Irons), The Wife provides Close a comparably gifted leading man (Jonathan Pryce) who too devours the material and makes his leading lady all the more dazzling.
The film opens on Joan and Joe Castleman, a duo married for nearly 40 years who reside quite comfortably in their lavish Connecticut home. One morning, they are awoken by the most welcome of phone calls - Joe has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his renowned body of work. Alongside son David (Max Irons, who manages his hold his own against these two powerhouses), off they go to Stockholm, where Joe shall pick up his prize.
As the trip progresses, however, family tensions gradually boil to the surface. For one, David deeply resents his father for neglecting to recognize his own writing contributions. The real strain, however, is between husband and wife, with such anxiety only acerbated by the presence of Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), a writer who desperately wishes to pen a biography of Joe. The more Nathaniel meddles in their trip, the more exasperation Joan and David feel toward the man of the hour. It isn't long before repressed feelings, not to mention unsettling revelations, send the Castlemans spiraling out of control.
Over its opening hour or so, The Wife is the most leisurely of slow burns, a fine showcase for its stars, sharply written by the great Jane Anderson, but admittedly lacking much in the way of exhilaration - I have to wonder, frankly, if many viewers, including those key members of the Academy, will have patience for this picture.
There comes a point, at last, when Band-Aids are ripped off the skin and Close and Pryce have the license to ferociously go at it on the screen in a fashion they really haven't been able to in years. The Wife ultimately emerges a master class in acting for these two juggernauts, who have boundless chemistry and ring completely convincing as a couple in crisis. The brilliance of Anderson's screenplay makes Close and Pryce all the more shimmer.
With that said, is The Wife a perfect film? Not really. Some of the Castlemans' story is conveyed through flashbacks, which aren't as compelling or expertly acted, though they do at least provide the exquisite Elizabeth McGovern the opportunity to swoop in for a memorable, if all too fleeting cameo as an author who tries to dissuade young Joan (Annie Starke) from diving into professional writing.
While not without its faults, The Wife is an absolute must-see for Close's riveting turn, which is nicely supported by Pryce and Irons, not to mention Anderson's dynamite script. Fingers crossed this early release doesn't fall through the cracks of a chaotic Oscar season...