'The Wife' builds from resentment to tension to suspense
- Written by Diane Carson
Director Björn Runge plays his cards with a canny reserve in "The Wife," which slyly reinforces the cliché that behind every great man is a great woman. That woman is Joan Castleman, married to Joe Castleman who excitedly anticipates and then learns of his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature as the film begins.
For the 1992 Nobel ceremony, they and their adult son David, an aspiring writer himself, will travel to Stockholm, Nathaniel Bone dogging their steps. Pushing his way into the Castlemans' lies, he's determined to make a name for himself as Joe's biographer with duplicitous warmth. As the solemn ceremony approaches, repressed resentment, serial unfaithfulness, and deceitful representation will infuse tension into the proceedings.
Flashbacks to Smith College in 1958, New York in 1960, and Connecticut in 1968 will chronicle Joan as first Joe's student, then his babysitter, and eventually his wife. Like the moth to the flame, she gravitates to her mentor, enmeshed in and aware only much later of the dominance of pervasive sexism. Self-absorbed, Joe can't find time to read his son's short story, the catalyst for revelations about their troubled relationship.
Screenwriter Jane Anderson adapted Meg Wolitzer's 2003 novel with a precise idea of exactly where the interest resides, that is, the way couples navigate minefields. There is a heady mix here of negotiated peace and dangerous submission. As the linchpin of the drama, Glenn Close's Joan is the driving force in what should be an Oscar-nominated performance. Opposite her, Jonathan Pryce barely holds his own as Joe. Christian Slater brings the scheming Nathaniel Bone to life, and Max Irons (yes, Jeremy Irons' son) gives son David heartbreaking moments.
Cinematographer Ulf Brantås creates a convincing environment for private and public, flashback and contemporary scenes. The interaction pulses with medium close-ups as emotions ratchet up and distant shots to punctuate the unease. Jocelyn Pook's music unobtrusively interprets the various moods and editor Lena Runge, the director's wife, expertly paces scenes. Above all, the awareness of the sacrifices Joan and of so many other women gives "The Wife" an important, still relevant intensity. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema. Check listings.