In 1942 at the age of 60 but not long before his death, once celebrated American actor John Barrymore (Christopher Plummer), a member of one of Hollywood's best known multi-generational theatrical dynasties, is no longer a leading box office star and struggles with alcohol abuse, reckoning with the ravages of his life of excess. He has rented a grand, old theatre to rehearse for a backer's audition to raise money for a revival of his 1920 Broadway triumph in Richard III. In between rehearsing his lines, he looks back on the highs and lows of his amazing career and remarkable life.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A spectacular showcase for Christopher Plummer, Barrymore is a fascinating piece of theatrical cinema. Essentially a one man play - although John Plumpis is a presence in the wings as the prompter, Frank - it is filmed on the stage, but director Erik Canuel inserts some cinematic devices, ranging from Plummer in his father's wardrobe (seen as a reflection in a full length mirror) to a wide shot of Florence from a balcony, on which a short scene takes place.
He also changes into his Richard III costume (complete with fake nose extension) and there are snatches of film clips projected onto the screen at the back of the stage.
The other most frequent tool used to convey its cinematic essence is - not surprisingly - the camera. Using ever changing points of view and a range of close ups, wide shots and mid shots, there is a good deal of dynamic vision (cleverly, seamlessly edited) in what is basically an 80 minute monologue. But make no mistake, in the hands of an actor of such caliber as Plummer, it is riveting stuff. And often hilarious, risqué, even coarse on occasion.
The occasional banter between Barrymore and Frank gets a tad tedious and forced, although on stage it will have worked more effectively. It's really a device to give Barrymore opportunities to display his volatility, his decency and his altogether complex character as he cajoles and clashes with the young man.
Plummer absolutely inhabits the character, and the fact he is 20 years older than Barrymore was at the time makes not an ounce of difference. Besides, we don't have Barrymore around for comparison. (Although the handsome young Plummer did bear a resemblance to the handsome young Barrymore.)
The play by William Luce is written like haphazard memoirs, but it does in fact have a certain chronology and there is a clear journey, the end of which is superbly realised.
Barrymore won't be playing in any multiplex, nor will it be in cinemas for long, so anyone interested in seeing one great actor portray another great actor - from the inside out with great humour, pathos and theatrical brio - hurry along.
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CAST: Christopher Plummer, John Plumpis
PRODUCER: Garth H. Dabrinsky
DIRECTOR: Erik Canuel
SCRIPT: Erik Canuel (play by William Luce)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bernard Couture
EDITOR: Jean-Francois Bergeron
MUSIC: Michael Corriveau
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cameron Porteus
RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sharmill Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 25 & 26, 2012 (selected cinemas)
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