Reading the review in The Age and checking RottenTomatoes.com, you't think this film was made out of the remnants of on of Donald Trump's alleged golden showers. The Age review is particularly scathing, commenting that is it the worst thing Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton will ever do.
I'm going to be a bit kinder to this film, mostly because it is well-intentioned, but also, it's pretty to look at and it brings up some universal concepts, which okay are somewhat misguided and yes, the plot has holes the size of a Beijing sinkhole, but there is a bit to this movie which is good, and interesting, and universal.
I also will not complain too much as I used a free ticket on this one. You are not allowed to moan about freebies.
The general story is one of loss. Howard, a genius advertising executive is barely functioning three years after the death of his six-year-old daughter, to the point that his business partners (Norton, Winstlet and a surprisingly underwhelming Michael Pena) need to find a way to remove him from the business. Howard's party piece is that he talks about the great levelers of life. Love - which we all need, Time, which we can never have enough of and Death - which we all must face. Howard writes to all of these concepts and posts the letters. After a wily private investigator manages to get a hold of these letters, the trio hire a troupe of actors to face Howard and his current life choices. Mirren as Death, Keira Knightly as Love and Jacob Lattimore as Time.
This is by no means a perfect film. The script is patchy (I think The Age put it that it has numerous lines that Chuck Norris would have vetoed). In many ways, the whole premise of the film is pretty silly. Okay, it's not up there with one of the Kardashians doing Ibsen, but the script isn't great. At all.
One the good side - New York hasn't looked better. It's lovely to look at and the setting kept me entralled for most of the movie.
For me, what got me about this film, as trite and as clumsy as the storyline makes the concept, it is a very good, very thorough look at grief - particularly parents grieving children. Having been around a bit of this, this part of the story worked for me (though the saccharine ending you could see coming in the first 20 minutes.)
Though not done well, it does bring up some universal questions of love, time and death - concepts people have to deal with on a daily basis - and for attempting to look at these things, I take my had off to it.
Will Smith is next to catatonic for most of the movie, but shows a prowess for dominoes. I enjoyed Helen Mirren playing the older wise woman. Keira Knightly's wavering American accent pushed it a bit, an Naomie Harris added a good bit of gravitas to her end of the movie playing a counsellor for a support group. Michael Pena had a hard time with his material. And Edward Norton tried to make the best of a bad script.
I'd love to see what a better script writer and director could have done with this material, as it has the hallmarks of greatness, but falls very flat.
Then again, look at other films which look at death in a conceptual way - such as "Meet Joe Black" - which is always seen as Brad Pitt's worst movie to date. 'City of Angels" with Meg Ryan pre-trout pout and Nicholas Cage when he was half hot - again, a stinker - and a bit weird.
Despite all the problems with this film, I walked out with a tear in my eye, pondering the questions asked in the film.
I'd also not recommend this to anybody who has suffered a recent bereavement, particularly that of a child. However I do give the film kudos for at least trying to broach the topic.
There are a lot of good films out there. This is not one of them, but don't dismiss it entirely.