Acting is tops in Albert Nobbs, Man on a Ledge goes over the edge

by Mark Burger

The title character in Albert Nobbs has a secret, and since the character is played by Glenn Close (who picked up a Best Actress Oscar nomination), you can easily guess what that secret is.

Based on George Moore’s short story The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs (an appropriate title, that!) and set in late 19 th -century Dublin, the story follows Albert as “he” goes about his business, dutifully tending to the patrons of a hotel, hoping to save enough money to open “his” own tobacco shop. Yet Albert’s dreams are as illusory as his identity, no matter the intensity of intent. The project has been a longtime labor of love for its star, who played the role on stage 30 years ago and has since tried to bring a film adaptation to the screen. Close receives a producing a credit, a co-screenwriting credit (with John Banville) and had a hand in the lyrics of the film’s theme song, performed by Sinead O’Connor. The attraction that Albert feels for the young maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska) may indeed be of a romantic nature, but is more palpably a maternal one. Albert clearly cannot lead a normal life within the confines of this 30-year charade. But Albert does find a (very) kindred soul in Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), who has been hired to paint the hotel. Like Albert, Hubert is a she — and played to perfection by McTeer, who earned her own Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress — but is more comfortable in “his” own skin and manufactured identity, comparatively speaking.

Sometimes stagey but always well acted, Albert Nobbs also boasts fine supporting performances by Pauline Collins as Mrs. Baker, the proprietress of the hotel, whose own facade is that of a dithering eccentric, yet in reality a monstrously manipulative harridan. The always welcome Brendan Gleeson plays Dr. Holloran, who cheerfully flaunts his boozing and woman- izing, ignoring those who gossip about his behavior, knowing full well that if there’s medi- cal trouble, he’s their potential savior. (Indeed, when an epidemic of typhoid fever breaks out, that’s precisely what he becomes.) Phyllida Law, Brenda Fricker, Aaron Johnson,

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (briefly) and Maria Doyle Kennedy and Bronagh Gallagher — both veterans of Alan Parker’s excellent The Commitments two decades ago — round out the cast. Both a subtle comedy of manners and a bittersweet tragedy, Albert Nobbs is, if nothing else, justification of Close’s faith in it and a triumph for her.

Before it completely goes over the edge, about halfway through, Man on a Ledge is a Hollywood thriller in the sleek and slick tradition. The film looks good — and makes good use of its Manhattan locations — and boasts a personable, if not entirely compelling, cast.

Sam Worthington plays Nick Cassidy, excop and escaped con, now teetering on the edge of the ledge on the 20 th floor of the Roosevelt Hotel. (Some 40 years ago, that some hotel was also pivotal in a landmark motion picture, The French Connection.)

With crowds gathering below and cops congregating in and around the hotel, Nick banters with police psychologist Lydia Mercer

(Elizabeth Banks), whose last jumper did just that. But it soon transpires that Nick’s desperate action is merely a diversion, for across the street, Nick’s younger brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez, in her screen debut, and quite the looker too) have embarked on their own hair-raising excursion— breaking into a high-tech vault and trying to find the evidence that would clear Nick’s name.

Among the cops on the case are Ed Burns, Anthony Mackie and Titus Welliver — some of whom (no surprise) may not be as upstanding as they first appear. Kyra Sedgwick picks up an easy check as a typical muckraking tabloid-TV reporter, as does Ed Harris as a rich and powerful fatcat and the resident heavy of the piece.

Credibility becomes an early casualty in Pablo F. Fenjeves’ script. For the film’s thrills and spills — and there are a few, all the better to please the viewer — the story grows increasingly far-fetched to the point of absurdity. Director Asger Leth, helming only his second fea- ture and his first narrative feature, appears less concerned with maintaining any semblance of believability and reality than in keeping things on the move. To its credit, Man on a Ledge is never dull, but it’s frequently ridiculous.

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