Peter Eramo Reviews: “The Greatest”

The Greatest” is the directorial debut of Shana Feste (based on her own screenplay) and revolves around a married couple trying to get over the tragic loss of their oldest son Bennett, who was about to set off to college. Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon play Allen and Grace Brewer, the couple who handle the grieving process in completely different ways. This is not breaking new ground as we have seen this on film many times before. Allen is a math professor who finds comfort in numbers and equations and cannot understand the unpredictability of the real world, let alone cope with this loss in a healthy way…he bottles everything inside, though gives off the impression that he is playing the sturdy rock so the family doesn’t crumble apart. Grace needs to talk about her dead son and find out every tiny bit about the way he died or she’ll just lose it. Bennett was the one victim of a terrible car crash and the truck driver who hit him (Michael Shannon) has been in a coma ever since. Grace visits him constantly, reading to him as she waits for him to wake up so that she can have all of her questions about her son’s last 17 minutes of life answered. She will not rest until she gets this closure.

An unexpected visitor comes to the house in the name of Rose (Carey Mulligan), who is pregnant with Bennett’s child. Though she must be extremely bright as she was accepted to go to the prestigious Barnard College, she seemingly has nowhere else to go because her mother has serious issues. The Brewers take her in and that brings more difficulties to the already troubled household. Johnny Simmons plays their younger son, Ryan, who always played second fiddle his brother, the golden child.

There are some very tender moments throughout the film and fine performances are given by this impressive cast. However, it is handled with a very heavy hand at times and falls victim to being a bit too melodramatic in spots. I never really bought into Rose’s dilemma of having nowhere else to live. Also, her relationship with Bennett was a bit uneven. We are led to believe that the two met (from afar) as freshmen in high school, exchanged intense glances towards one another — and never spoke until the very last day of school during their senior year. On top of this, when they do speak, they sleep together right away for one time and she is pregnant with his child. I found this to be a bit far-fetched, although the way Carey Mulligan explains the courtship is very romantic and quite sweet.

It is nice to see Brosnan in this role and watching it is a bit unsettling knowing of the similar tragedy in his own life. His demeanor is kind and understanding and we can immediately empathize with him. Each character seems to have their own moment of catharsis, but I felt Brosnan’s was a bit forced and could have been handled with more subtlety. His chemistry with Sarandon is very good. We have two veteran actors here in very demanding roles and they play well off one another. Sarandon’s Grace sees everyone as a threat, including Rose. It is tough to feel sorry for her because in her grief, she doesn’t show much love for those around her and is brutally honest about her feelings towards her son’s lover. Mulligan is a terrific choice for Rose and does a great job with her. She is a breath of fresh air and we immediately like her. Simmons gives a terrific performance as the younger son who has also been going through severe pain in losing his older brother, though his parents don’t really seem to be helping him cope very well at all. They just want to make sure he’s not taking drugs anymore.

So though there are some nice moments and the very last scene is a very sweet way to end it, I felt the movie was uneven. There are some terrific films that deal with families getting over the loss of their child, but I don’t think I would include this one – though I have no reason to think it is not authentic or true to life. Feste has surely done her research regarding the complex subject matter and the characterization all rings quite true. Perhaps the film would have fared better in the hands of a more experienced, adept director.

Rating:   
Year:       2010
Director: Shana Feste

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