Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Lesley Manville) are a long-married couple who live a life of comfortable familiarity. Their relationship is tested when Joan is diagnosed with breast cancer and they're faced with trying to come to terms with their own mortality.
You are going to die. Sorry to break it to you if you didn’t know, but I thought I’d get it out of the way early. We see people die on screen all the time yea, but they are removed, their deaths for entertainment purposes. 'Ordinary Love' is such a small and intimate film that it stares at our inevitable fates in an almost unsettling way at times, but makes for a great watch.
Before his turn as a middle-aged action star, Liam Neeson actually used to act and do it very well. He’s been coasting for so long now that I actually forgot how he built up that goodwill in the first place. So going in I thought it was a brave choice to cast someone like Neeson and the baggage his ‘Taken’ career brings with him. But crikey he surely puts his back into it and we end up with a really convincing portrayal of a broadly sympathetic boomer trying to do the best he can.
But it is Lesley Manville that really knocks it out of the park. In part she does get a lot more to do by the nature of the script - Neeson has to make do with being grumpy and distant where Manville gets a gigantic well of emotion to play with. The camera lingers on her for much longer as she sits and waits in operating rooms, her husband found wanting. It's her worry we see at first, and her struggle is what really drives the narrative.
Together their on-screen chemistry is just sizzling. The film really encapsulates the feeling of the time spent with your partner, whittling away an aimless day together. They joke and they argue, often at the same time. Their past trauma lies heavy in the relationship, rarely spoken but never far from mind. It is simply great storytelling that only cinema can provide.
The directing is laconic which goes a long way to driving the low-level melancholy of the film. There are so many fantastic shots that just use the language of cinema to enhance what the acting is telling us. It feels more tapered than something Ingmar Bergman would have produced. For me it doesn’t quite hit the high points of something like ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ but it sometimes comes damn close.
‘Ordinary Love’ is another lovely little surprise in this year’s release schedule from Irish filmmakers. It films like this that help reminds us what the true magic of cinema is for.