I am both a Martin Landau and an Ellen Burstyn fan, so I was especially looking forward to seeing them act. I expected formidable acting muscle, sparks, confrontations: things befitting their Actor's Studio origins. What instead greeted me was a Landau so frail and docile...and frightened. His character, Robert Malone, is a man who treads warily and uneasily through life. He is a single man, and we assume he has simply been unlucky in love. Burstyn is the loving, open-hearted, yet lonely, woman who sweeps into his life one Christmas and changes it forever. One thing about Landau in this film: the actor looks shockingly aged, and I'm sure this has been deliberately used by both the filmmaker and Landau himself as a sort of effect to win us over to sympathy for Malone. Yet I had no doubt that this is a consummate performance. Landau, in life, is likely vital and engaged whereas Robert Malone, as I have said, seems on the brink of terror nearly every moment of his day. (The "wakeup" sequences are especially effective conveying this.) The love story plays out in an even-handed way. Underneath this blossoming love, of course, is the shadow of mortality. There occurs--over two-thirds into the film--a dramatic event that I won't reveal or spoil, but it causes the viewer to look back over events that occurred and reflect on them...in a rewarding way. The drama is never cheap nor unjustified. I come away with satisfaction and admiration for the unexpected performances, for the tender core of the film, and for a fresh perspective on the elderly that is anything but cloying or cliché. This movie is in fact--particularly with the presence of Death hanging over events (as another character in the film)--as gripping and occasionally breathless as any thriller.
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