Mike Leigh is a director who likes to do things his own way. He’s an outsider who refuses to play by the rules, picking and choosing film products based on his own sensibilities. A biopic of artist William Turner seemed like the perfect marriage between the director and material, but what we get from Leigh’s Mr.Turner is a wonderful looking film with a story which is as flat as one of Turner’s famed landscapes.
Timothy Spall grunts his way through Mr Turner’s 2 1/2 hour running time, coming across more like a curmudgeonly commuter in need of a toilet than a fully realised human being. Spall won Best Actor at the Cannes Film festival for his performance, but it’s more caricature than a character, broad-strokes in a large ill-composed picture. Spall may be a good actor but this is not his best work.
Leigh’s film feels choppy and ill composed on a narrative level. You could move a vast majority of the scenes around without having an impact on the story. This might be Leigh playing with the conventions of storytelling, but it makes for a film with very little narrative thrust. Turner may have been an artistic genius but Leigh’s film makes him appear as a most uninteresting man. I’d like to say that the art is always more impressive than the artist but I’d have to negate Mr. Turner from the overall picture of Mike Leigh’s career. The saving grace for Mr.Turner comes from Dick Pope’s glorious cinematography. You could argue that Pope is as great an artist as Turner, using light and shade to craft a sumptuous looking piece of cinema. Sadly, Leigh’s unfocused script and direction ruin Pope’s good work.
Cinema is many things to many people and I’m sure that Mr. Turner has its many supporters. They will likely draw on the parallels between Mike Leigh and William Turner, two men who created art in their own, disregarding convention and the establishment. That might be the case, but Leigh’s film feels like a waste of talent, time and money. There’s a tale to be told here but it’s not going to be found between Timothy Spall’s guttural sounds and Leigh’s directionless tone and story.
This 2-disc DVD of Mr. Turner comes with deleted scenes and interviews. This is great for those who love the movie but additional misery for those who didn’t.