Seeing it last night, 'Stan and Ollie', did not disappoint in any way. What was one of my most anticipated recent films became one of the best films seen in the cinema in a long time. Not many films recently had me laughing, crying and thinking and then coming out of the cinema with a smile on my face, made me feeling warm inside and holding back tears. It is the complete opposite of a mess and calling it fine isn't enough, this is referring to the common "another fine mess". It was very interesting too for the film to focus on one period (the close of their career and their farewell tour) with references to past work, instead of trying to cover their whole career, one that sees different sides to Laurel and Hardy's friendship relationship, with blessings and burdens, and to Laurel and Hardy themselves.
The film is beautifully made visually. Cannot fault the evocatively rendered period detail, that's sumptuous but the postwar gloominess hangs over, or the clean cinematography that is a loving complement to it. A standout in the case of the latter being the single tracking shot at the beginning where it was like the two brought to life, similarly the effective fixed frames where the interaction between Laurel and Hardy truly shines through. In this regard though, the star was the make-up/prosthetics used on John C Reilly as Hardy, you know the make up is good when it looks authentic and like time and care went into it as well as not being able to recognise the actor. Did not recognise John C Reilly and he did not look uncomfortable at all. Didn't even notice or realise that CGI was used to extend some of the locations, in a period where this aspect is overused, abused and distracting to see a film that uses it yet subtly and sparingly was refreshing and preferable actually to back projection (on a side note some of the later outings used back projection and did so poorly).
Rolfe Kent's score fits beautifully, full of whimsy and nostalgia and knowing when to be prominent and when to step back. Loved the use of "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine", and it's affectionately choreographed and performed. Could really tell that director Jon S. Baird had a lot of passion and adoration for the duo and story judging from the sincere directing style that balances comedy and pathos effortlessly when there are films that struggle badly in this.
Qualities that are balanced every bit as adeptly in the witty, poignant and thought-provoking script, the later emotional moments especially where you see how strained the relationship was later on which was sad in itself. The story also, with the recreation of the classic routines, sly and hilarious and also endearingly innocent, affectionately done and enormously entertaining, while the slapstick gags with the bell and the oversized trunk were a genius move. Much of it was truly affectionate and nostalgic and it is so obvious seeing what the duo's appeal was, their relationship having so many layers and any shifts to it never jarring or rushed and both the personalities are portrayed to perfection. Yet it is the later emotional moments that got to me, it broke me seeing Hardy in the state he was. The ending was both triumphant and moving and the end credits were a lovely touch and takes one back, newcomers to the duo will want to see their work after seeing this film.
No issues to be found with the casting here. There is terrific support from an amusing yet stern Nina Arianda, loyal Shirley Henderson (in one of her best performances) and haughty Rufus Jones, the contrast between the two wives in their interaction is well done. The stars, as it should be, are Laurel and Hardy themselves. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are both extraordinary, so much so one is convinced Laurel and Hardy had come to life right from the opening sequence. For me, Coogan has never been better, he is very funny, precise (he times the schtick brilliantly) and at times arrogant, his restraint absolutely captivating. Was even more impressed by Reilly, in so far career-best work too, perhaps he is ever so slightly too tall for Hardy but that is as if nit-picking but he nails Hardy's comic timing and personality, but he is also extremely moving in the latter stages and sometimes without saying much. The chemistry between the two really lifts the film to an even higher level, the wit, tension and pathos nailed individually and equally dead on in balance.
In conclusion, truly delightful. 10/10 Bethany Cox