Based on a short story by David Constantine, Andrew Haigh's 2015 picture 45 Years introduces us to a married couple made up of Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) and his wife Kate (Charlotte Rampling). Just as they're about to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, having spent the last four and a half decades together working (she as a teacher and he in a factory) and living together in their quaint country cottage. Their life is a quiet one, but their life is peaceful and even if they're now getting on in years, it's clear that the affection that first brought them together is still there, even if it has changed over the years.
The one day Geoff gets a letter. Before he and Kate were an item he was involved with a German girl named Katya who, sadly, was killed in an accident in Alps. The letter informs him that Katya's body has been found and, while he is understandably hesitant to admit it, this upsets Geoff. Kate calls him on it in a gentle sort of way. His behavior starts to change after he receives the news, all this on the night before what was supposed to be their big celebration. As the couple deals with the news, separately and together, Kate starts to question how much the man she's built her entire life around really does love her after all.
This doesn't play out like you think it will, and yet it couldn't possibly have a more appropriate finish. Interesting stuff, this 45 Years. In many ways the film is an examination of the fragility of love and of human relationships. As the story plays out we learn how early in their relationship together getting over what happened to Katya, who Geoff was clearly in love with, took some time and some effort. But it seemed like they got there and as such, Kate was only too happy to put up with some of Geoff's quirks, because she never questions his devotion to her. As such, she allowed him to get away with a little laziness here and there, she cooked for him, she tended to his needs, all while working full time as a schoolteacher. She gave a lot, to her husband and to the community around them, and did her best to create a long term romance that she really and truly felt would be rock solid. The surprise reemergence of Katya into their lives causes her to call this into question. She knows very early on after Geoff receives the letter where his head is going, because she knows him so well. At the same time, she's communicating so much to him through a knowing gaze and through body language that you have to wonder if his ignorance in reading her signals is intentional or not.
None of this would be time well spend if the performances weren't up to par. Of course, when you've got Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling cast as your leads, odds are in your favor that will be the case, and with 45 Years it most certainly is. Courtenay is very good here. His character is a little crotchety, a little surly, there's a bit of that youthful spark in him that drew her to him when he gets fired up, but like everyone else, he's starting to show his age. He seems, however, to really love her and to want to be good to her. Courtenay is completely easy to buy in the part, he fits the role well and his appearance in the film, just a little disheveled, also works quite well and helps to further shape his character. Rampling is every bit as good, if not even a little bit better. She uses those distinct facial features of hers to say as much with a look as she ever could with even the most brilliant line of dialogue. Her conflicts as the story plays out feels very real, making what happens in the last half of the film all the more engaging.
If the movie seems simple, that's a deception. While it's true that the plot itself is not particularly complex, the characters that inhabit it are. There's a palpable sense of realism to all of his that makes it considerably more tense than it probably sounds. Haigh's picture isn't flash, but it is nicely shot and lit with a naturalness that is entirely befitting of its subject matter.The Blu-ray:
45 Years arrives on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc. Supervised by director Andrew Haigh, the transfer shows very good detail throughout and strong clarity from start to finish. Color reproduction looks nice and natural, never oversaturated or artificially boosted, while black levels are nice and strong. There are no noticeable issues with any compression artifacts or artificial sharpening to note. Full marks here, this is a very strong picture that would seem to be very true to source.Sound:
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, with optional subtitles available in English only. As this is essentially a dialogue based film there isn't a ton of surround activity here but if you listen carefully you'll notice little bits and pieces here and there that help to build mood. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easily discernable throughout and there are no problems at all with any hiss or distortion. This isn't a super complicated or particularly bombastic track but it would seem to accurately reflect the movie's original sound design.Extras:
Extras on the disc begin with an audio commentary featuring Haigh and producer Tristan Goligher. This is an interesting track that touches on the movie's source material, details the various location that were used for different scenes and goes in-depth as it examines character motivation in a big way. There are a couple of minor gaps here and there but they are few and far between and for the most part, this is an interesting discussion of the film and the characters that inhabit it.
The disc also includes a new documentary featuring interviews with Haigh, Goligher, actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, editor Jonathan Alberts, and director of photography Lol Crawley. At roughly thirty-seven minutes in length this is a fairly thorough piece and if it touches on a few of the same things that are discussed in the commentary, there's enough new ground to cover here that it's worth checking out, particularly as it allows Rampling and Courtenay to talk about their thoughts on the film and their important work in the picture. Additionally, look for a new interview with David Constantine, the author of the short story that the movie was based on. In this fourteen minute piece he talks about writing the story, some of the changes that were made to his work in Haigh's adaptation and his thoughts on the movie version of the story.
Outside of that the disc also contains a theatrical trailer for the film, menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear Blu-ray case alongside the disc is an insert that contains an essay by critic Ella Taylor.Final Thoughts:
45 Years is intelligent, thought provoking and quite moving. Haigh's film is one that makes you think and the performances in the movie are so strong that you can't help but be taken in by the characters. It's not a flash film, in fact in many ways it is a very quiet picture, but it's very well made and quite engaging. The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release looks and sounds great and contains a nice selection of supplements. Highly recommended.