Seeing Meryl Streep win the Academy Award for her work in The Iron Lady was nice to witness, but lost in the tidal wave of praise for that performance was the fact that Glenn Close had returned for another round of critical acclaim, earning her sixth Oscar nomination for her work in Albert Nobbs. And while Streep had not won her second Oscar in a while, Close has yet to win amongst those nominations. While I have confidence that she will win down the road for a role that perhaps is inferior to the ones she has been previously nominated for, her performance here is certainly one of the bolder choices I can recall her making.
Albert Nobbs is based on a George Moore novella that Close helped adapt into a screenplay which Rodrigo Garcia (Mother and Child) directed. Close (who also produced the film) plays the title role of Albert Nobbs, a woman who decided to start concealing her identity and has been wearing men's clothing for years, and is working in a hotel in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century. Albert's position at the hotel is one where one tends to blend into the background, avoiding all types of personal discussion or interaction. An encounter with a painter named Hubert Page helps Albert slowly come to grips with this personal stifling to a degree. Janet McTeer (Velvet Goldmine), plays Hubert, who cross-dresses as well and has done so for years, and is even in a committed relationship with another woman. Albert tries to learn how Hubert is pulling off this difficult task, but Albert has also expressed feelings towards Helen (Mia Wosikowska, Jane Eyre). Helen reluctantly agrees to reciprocate, but after some coercing by her boyfriend Joe (Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass) into exploiting Albert's feelings for money and gifts for he and Helen.
The big takeaway from Close's performance as Nobbs is just how detached Nobbs pulls from camaraderie. She lives her life in such an immensely guarded umbrella of secrecy in fear of any extracurricular conversation being construed as revealing anything. Among those who work at the hotel, whether it is the fun-loving Dr. Holloran (Brendan Gleeson, The Guard) or the hotel boss Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins, City of Joy), nobody really knows anything about Albert, and this is completely by his design. This is likely due to with societal views at the time, but also Albert has no need for the relationships. He faithfully compiles his wages and tips and stores them for what he hopes will be a successful tobacco shop. Seeing him within the walls he has put up is sad and heartbreaking, but he knows no other way to do it without being ostracized. Close's portrayal is brilliant in both the deception and the almost childlike wonder Albert experiences in the brief moments of liberation.
That said, within Close's portrayal, one easily gathers just how lonely Albert's life is. Hubert shows Albert the possibilities of being more comfortable with his skin, and the interactions with Helen are clumsy and foolish, and become increasingly desperate the more Helen starts to resist (Wosikowska's performance in the film is adequate though I was not left spellbound by it). The ending of the film is both sad and even a little predictable, partly because Albert's life seems to dictate it. You will hardly get any warm fuzzies in the last 15-20 minutes of the film.
However, Albert Nobbs is less about the character's journey and more about the character's revelations and challenges to his sets of beliefs. In doing that, Close gives us a fascinating and heartbreaking person to experience, and in a career that has spanned several decades, may be her bravest performance to date.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Albert Nobbs is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and in high-definition using the AVC codec, with the overall result looking intriguing. Garcia and Director of Photography Michael McDonough take full advantage of shooting the interiors as naturally as possible, with additional lighting seemingly apparent only when necessary, and the wider interior shots look natural and conveyed well on Blu-ray. The flesh tones are accurate (made all the more so by a lack of makeup that stays faithful to the period) with some moments of image detail discernible (though you can make out other moments of detail in foreground shots, with the background lacking a little bit). The disc is true to the artistic intent and looks fine.
The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent, though it does not get much of a chance to show itself off. Dialogue is replicated faithfully to the original audio, and when the film gets a chance to go outside, the outdoor hustle and bustle of 1898 Ireland gives the soundtrack a warm layer of ambient sound in all of the channels that provides for a subtle yet somewhat immersive environment. The channel panning and directional effects are scarce, but when utilized they are convincing and effective.
Close and Garcia join up for a commentary that is understated yet lively through most of the film. Close provides some historical detail and context at times through the piece and includes intentions on the characters in the story. She also discusses the wardrobe and set design, and even gets into differences between the film and source material. She spots cast members she previously worked with, including one who was in 102 Dalmatians! The pair discusses and raves about certain scenes and recalls the challenges in others and there is some slight production recall. Considering I had little expectations about this commentary, it was a pleasant surprise. Four deleted scenes (8:16) follow that focus mainly on the interaction between Albert and Joe, but they are mainly fluff. The trailer for the film (2:32) and several other Lionsgate features complete the disc.
Very little fuss was made about Albert Nobbs other than the performances of Close and McTeer, but now that this is hitting video it is definitely worth the time, if nothing else so one can relish both of the actresses. Technically the disc is fine albeit a little bit muted (in line with the story's events to a degree), and the commentary is worth exploring to boot. It is certainly worth viewing no matter the tastes, as the lead performances are all that and the proverbial bag of chips.