Mr. Turner Review: Brush Strokes in Plain Sight

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There have been two exceptional biopics released this year, The Wind Rises and The Theory of Everything. What made them great was that they didn’t totally end up being about the subject of the biopic, transcending to become artistic and truthful in their storytelling. Mr. Turner wants desperately to be one of those types of biopics, but it never quite gets off the ground and is very much about its subject and not necessarily anything else.

Timothy Spall masterfully plays William Turner, a British artist known for his revolutionary style. The film follows his life, highlighting his relationship with his father, love life, and eventual death. It’s a transformational performance for Spall, who huffs and grunts throughout the film with a menacing scowl. Yet, at times, he still plays Turner warmly, but only to the people he truly connected with.

Spall is absolutely the best thing about Mr. Turner. Otherwise, this is mostly just a stuffy, overlong biography. At two and a half hours, there’s only so much more grunting we can take before the credits roll. The script is written with a pretension that not even Turner himself can escape. This is a film about the failures of other artists in the shadow of Turner, not the celebration of the medium it could have been.

That said, this is still a very well-made film. The costumes and sets are expectedly stunning. Spall definitely carries it on his back, but he proves just how strong of an actor he is in the process. This being a biopic, a genre made for character pieces, it’s acceptable enough for him to be the best thing about the film. I just wish some of the ideas surrounding him felt more open-minded. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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