Ben Kingsley is an Academy Award winner and one of the most recognizable faces in movies. He is an actor, and a very good one but he prefers to be called something else.
“I’m sure I am a storyteller,” he says. “I’m sure that is the right place for my DNA to be.”
Whether he is playing Darwan in this weekend’s Learning to Drive or Mohandas Gandhi, Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List or Sexy Beasts’ Don Logan, he strives to tell stories that get under the audience’s skin.
“Something happened to me and it stayed with me forever,” he says. “I had the privilege of playing Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company and I was walking and it was always in my head. It is a very all-consuming role.
“I was in Snitterfield, an open field just outside Stratford Upon Avon. A lovely young woman was on the opposite side of the field and seemed to be walking towards me, so I decided to tack to my right to avoid her feeling that I was intruding on her space. She tacked to her left. In other words, she mirrored me. Then I went the other way and she mirrored me. She was determined to meet me in the middle of this field. Then face-to-face, she said, ‘I saw Hamlet last night. How did you know about me?’
Something (I did) must have gone right in there (he points to his heart), straight through the sternum and said, ‘I know.’ That’s the connection.”
In his new film Kingsley makes a connection with co-star Patricia Clarkson. She plays Wendy, a divorcee who hires Darwan to teach her how to drive so she can travel to upstate New York to visit her daughter. As she learns to navigate Manhattan’s mean streets, they form a bond, teaching one another about life and love.
“I think in a really beautifully fashioned play or screenplay you have a feeling that the gods look down and say, ‘I’m going to bring you two together.’ I love that idea in mythology that the gods look down and send somebody to somebody. It is only through very unfortunate, heartbreaking circumstances that she finds herself in a taxi.
Heartbroken. I am driving a heartbroken woman. And I loved in the way, as in all great stories, the little coincidences are the gods guiding and bringing people together for some purpose. Here it is not for a great romance, it is to heal.”
The are driving lessons in “Learning to Drive,” a new film starring Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley, but learning how to parallel park or merge into traffic isn’t the point of the story.
Clarkson is literary critic Wendy, a recent divorcee who hires Darwan (Kingsley) to teach her how to drive so she can travel to upstate New York to visit her daughter (Grace Gummer). Still stinging from the separation she learns to navigate Manhattan’s mean streets, as the unlikely pair form a bond, teaching one another about life and love.
“Learning to Drive” is a Prius hybrid, a well-meaning movie that isn’t as flashy as other contemporary models. It is, however, a smooth ride, fuelled by the lead performances. The lessons learned aren’t revelatory—“It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life out there,” says Darwan, “you must shut it out. When you are at the wheel of a car, that is all there is. Your life right now.”—but because the characters are so compelling the simple metaphors kick into gear.
Clarkson is a live wire, a fiery woman torn between a lust for life and the shattering realization that in the wake of the divorce her life is unalterably changed. Kingsley brings warmth, vulnerability and charm that nicely mirrors her heartbreak.
“Learning to Drive” is a touching movie that isn’t so much about the destination—frankly that part is a mild let down—but about the journey and the words. The pleasure of the film is taking the trip and listening in to these two professionals deliver them.
A cross between an old school western and a Merrie Melodies cartoon, “The Homesman” is the latest from actor and director Tommy Lee Jones. A rough and tumble look at the harsh realities faced by women in frontier life it sheds light on a little seen aspect of life in the old west. It features a terrific performance from Hilary Swank and a spot on impression of Yosemite Sam from Jones.
Swank is Mary Bee Cuddy, a woman from New York State, now living in Loup City, Nebraska. She’s cultured, wealthy in land and know-how and unmarried. She’s well regarded in the town—one local says she’s “as good a man as many man hereabouts”—but her overtures at romance fall flat. She proposes marriage to Gam Sours (Jesse Plemons) with the caveat, “I won’t take no for an answer,” only to be rebuffed. “You’re as plain as an old tin pale,” he says, “and bossy.”
That may be so, but she has faired better than several other local women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) whose fragile mental states have been pushed to the limit by the grim reality of life in Loup City. Cuddy volunteers to transport them on a five-week journey to Iowa where they can be cared for properly.
On the way she meets army deserter, coward and all round scoundrel George “Yosemite” Briggs (Jones). She saves his life and in return he reluctantly agrees to make the journey with them.
“The Homesman” starts off as one thing, a look at Cuddy’s life as it intertwines with these mentally ill women but shifts story wise and tonally with the introduction of Jones’s character. What could have been a tale of female empowerment does a u-turn, shifting the focus to Jones and his cartoonish portrayal of the hard-drinking, jig dancing Briggs. What begins as an unconventional western becomes even less conventional as Jones cuts ghastly scenes of women dumping babies into outhouse holes against more jocular dialogue.
Swank, when she is given something to do, does it extremely well and Tim Blake Nelson as an amorous cowhand is menacing and funny, which seems to be the offbeat tone Jones was searching for, but never quite finds.
Story and character wise “The Homesman” is muddier than the rough terrain it takes place on.