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Arthur Newman

2013 | 101 min | R | 2.39:1

Arthur Newman


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Theatrical release date

 26 April, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Arthur Newman Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 26, 2013

It’s interesting to consider how some actors find their way into starring roles. A few years back, Colin Firth won an Oscar for his work in the worldwide smash “The King’s Speech,” and now he’s found himself in “Arthur Newman,” which is far removed from the high-profile screen challenges the leading man has enjoyed recently. Although the material is threatened with a dark undertow of mental illness, the overall inertia of the effort comes to rob the film of such intensity, meandering through misadventures with the two leads instead of attacking the story at hand. Though Firth and co-star Emily Blunt work to inject honesty into their performances, the feature doesn’t sustain much substance deeper than surface ache. It’s more indulgently mournful than motivated.

Enduring the tanking of his pro golf career and the dissolution of his marriage, Avery (Colin Firth) decides to fake his own death, using the opportunity to rechristen himself Arthur Newman and travel from Florida to Indiana, where a golf course instructor job is waiting for him. Early in his travels, Arthur meets Charlotte (Emily Blunt), a cough syrup drunk who’s working her way around the state under the identity of her hospitalized sister, Mike. Working to save Mike from herself, Arthur nurses the broken woman back to health, bonding with the stranger over their shared disinterest in reality. Joining him on the road to Indiana, Mike partakes in a game where the pair breaks into homes and assumes imagined personalities of the owners, instigating a sexual relationship that complicates their preferred sense of solitude. Also involved in Avery’s disappearance is girlfriend Mina (Anne Heche) and estranged son Kevin (Lucas Hedges), who desire to understand the mystery figure they think they’ve lost forever.

While “Arthur Newman” is directed by newcomer Dante Ariola, the screenplay is credited to Becky Johnson, whose career has included the construction of a Prince movie (“Under the Cherry Moon”) and working with Barbra Streisand (“The Prince of Tides”). The picture has the unmistakable flavor of a seasoned writer taking her idiosyncrasy out for a spin, building a tale of shattered people refusing to live inside their own skin anymore, taking to the comfort of alternate identities to simply survive in some form. Arthur and Mike are wounded, stubborn people who’ve found a connection in the darkness, and the feature presents a simple odyssey of communication, watching the twosome grow to trust each other despite their habits of deception.

Originality doesn’t emerge from the premise, instead found in the perspective of the characters, a pair who retains a healthy amount of dysfunction. For Arthur, an abyssal shame has locked him out of his own life, and we learn more about his demons as the film unfolds, eventually taking Kevin’s viewpoint as the teen begins to piece together a reason for his abandonment. However, Arthur is no lovable sad sack, but a prickly man while defined opinions on public displays of porn and the availability of gas station hot dogs. Despite Firth’s insistence on a ridiculous American accent (he sounds like he’s painfully digesting a bag of tees), the layers of imbalance register cleanly, permitting the viewer to approach Arthur’s anguish without feeling overly manipulated. After all, Arthur’s responsible for his own misery, a point Johnson establishes early, making the movie more about the man’s developing awareness than his rehabilitation. Arthur needs shock treatment, not a hug.

As for Mike, she comes from a family destroyed by schizophrenia, worried that her time with mental illness is drawing near. She’s elected escape instead of confrontation, and the film’s midsection, where the duo infiltrates homes to act out the lives of others, hits a highpoint of psychological analysis, detailing sexual thrills and emotional purging that goes along with a little breaking and entering. Blunt’s accessible throughout, matching Firth quite well, playing a more vividly unraveled woman facing a terrifying future of insanity.

What cripples “Arthur Newman” is its leisurely pace. It’s a maddeningly slow picture, mistaking stillness for profundity as we watch Arthur and Mike engage in staring contests and protracted moments of confession. There’s fertile ground here for an enlightening inspection of denial, yet Ariola can’t keep the proceedings moving forward, wallowing in the blue mood for far too long. It makes a decent movie with something to share about the exhaustion of defense mechanisms into a slog that leaves its actors high and dry.

Starring: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche, Kristin Lehman, David Andrews, Nicole LaLiberte
Director: Dante Ariola

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