Movie Review: Mr. Turner

This week, nothing came out at my usual theater that I wanted to see. I understand when I turn this hobby into a job I will have to see plenty of movies I have no interest in. But until that time, I will not see McFarland, USA, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and The Duff. Though reviewing all of those would no doubt help my blog, it would not help my wallet and/or general mood. Call me a pessimist, but pardon me if I live my life with a sense of realism.

* * *

            I know nothing about art and especially art history. I used to draw, but not terribly well. In school I did a great deal of ceramics, but outside of perhaps one piece, none of my work mattered. I have been to the Sistine Chapel and the Louvre, but found myself unfazed by what was on display. If I think something looks good, then it is good, no more no less. To me, framed paintings are just that. The Mona Lisa may be famous, but all I see is a portrait everyone thinks is a masterpiece.

I tell you this because I did not know how to begin my review. Normally I start with an anecdote or a brief explanation of something relating to the critique, but I am at a loss. I do not appreciate art like most people and I fear I will be unable to appreciate this film like those who are familiar with the work of JMW Turner. Regardless of my shortcomings, Mr. Turner will be judged on what I know for sure.

The story follows the last decades in the life of eccentric 19th Century painter JMW Turner. We see him struggle in both his personal and professional life, dealing with harsh critics, an estranged family, and sickness.

Turner is essentially a true-to-life period piece. The story is told as a matter of fact and depthful in its depiction of the time and place. In exchange for a central plot and easy to follow structure, the film opts for a natural approach, consistent with the way actual human beings act and how events occur. It was quite a spectacle because you feel the authenticity on screen.

However, it is unfit for the average moviegoer, hence the indie release. In exchange for fluidity, Turner’s natural pace causes the plot to drag for the entire 150-minute runtime. In a scene with a conversation, you sit through the greeting, small talk, subject, and conclusion, whereas a typical movie conversation starts in the middle and ends before the conclusion. Turner very much wants you to know what is happening, rather than cutting to the chase. Gettysburg is similar, but there was more than enough going on to keep your attention for 271 minutes.

The movie would be a chore to sit through had not the dialog been the high point. The way the characters talk is authentic, charming, and the actors did a fine job of making their strange lines seem natural. Speaking of which, Timothy Spall as Turner played his role masterfully. If you have any interest in seeing this film, Spall makes it well worth the admission. His transformation was so confounding and a marvel to behold, I cannot believe he works mostly in supporting roles.

Mr. Turner is a difficult movie to recommend. On the one hand, there is much to appreciate, but it is not enough to look beyond its flaws. If you like period pieces with a natural feel, you will certainly like it. Be ready for a long sit. If you are an average moviegoer that is easily bored, stay home.

 

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