Genius Products // 2007 // 118 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // February 19th, 2009
Discover the Love of a Lifetime.
Sir Richard Attenborough steps behind the camera a 12th time for Closing the Ring. Unlike previous projects from the director of A Bridge Too Far and Chaplin, Closing the Ring did not receive an American theatrical release, instead going straight to DVD nearly two years after its 2007 theatrical run in the United Kingdom. Upon seeing the final product, it's not hard to see why.
In 1991, a small Michigan town mourns the death of a World War II veteran. The man's widow Ethel Ann (Shirley MacLaine, Being There), however, seems fairly indifferent to her husband's passing, much to the consternation of her daughter Marie (Neve Campbell, Scream 2). Marie presses her mother as to why she refuses to grieve, but Ethel Ann will not budge. Marie then turns to Jack (Christopher Plummer, Hanover Street), a family friend who seems to know what's troubling Ethel Ann but is reluctant to discuss the matter with Marie.
Meanwhile, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a retired firefighter named Quinlan (Pete Postlethwaite, The Usual Suspects) digs up the remains of a B-17 that crashed there in 1944. Helping him is an enthusiastic young man named Jimmy (Martin McCann), who discovers a ring inscribed with the names Teddy and Ethel Ann. With the ring lies the key to a long-dormant secret involving Quinlan, Jack, and Ethel Ann.
Remember the Boy Meets World episode where the characters are going off to fight in World War II (I forget how; I think it was an extended dream sequence or something), and Cory makes Shawn promise to take care of Topanga if he doesn't make it back? Imagine that episode as a silly romantic melodrama, and you have the gist of Closing the Ring.
See, the crux of the film is that young Ethel Ann (Mischa Barton, The O.C.) had a romance with a young man named Teddy (Stephen Amell) before the war. His best friends are Chuck (David Alpay, The Tudors) and Jack (Gregory Smith, American Outlaws). The three men go into the Army Air Corps, and Teddy makes Chuck promise to look after Ethel Ann if he doesn't make it back. Jack, who is himself very much in love with Ethel Ann, keeps quiet about his feelings and suffers silently over the years, while Chuck marries Ethel Ann and with her has Marie.
Attenborough allows these events to unfold very deliberately, and Peter Woodward's screenplay takes its time doling out information. I think Attenborough's Gandhi moves faster than this movie, and it's more than an hour longer. Not only is the script's pace detrimental, but it's also pointless to drag it all out given the fact that almost nothing that happens in this movie is surprising. The ridiculous ending, in particular, where most of the main characters end up in Belfast, is guaranteed to shock no one who has even been half paying attention.
Unfortunately, for a movie dealing in big, buried emotions, Attenborough never allows the feelings of his characters to manifest themselves adequately. We never feel any love between Teddy and Ethel Ann, although that's also attributable to Amell's bland performance and some extremely mushy dialogue, like this speech that Ethel Ann delivers to her love: "I will always love you, Teddy. I'll be yours to the day I die, I swear it. There won't be room for anyone else in my heart but you. No one else, not ever. 'Til I'm laid in my grave."
Similarly, beyond a few Significant Glances, we never get a sense of Jack's love for Ethel Ann, just as there's never any indication that Ethel Ann loves Jack as anything more than a friend. Which makes it all the more silly that the two end up together at the end.
All of this material would be bad enough, but there's the Belfast subplot to contend with as well. Woodward throws in some IRA intrigue mainly as a contrivance to send Jimmy to America so that he can bring Ethel Ann back to Belfast with him for the film's conclusion. I realize that the movie needed some scenes in Belfast for the finding of the ring, but couldn't the filmmakers just have had Quinlan deliver it himself and cut the characters of Jimmy and Cathal (Ian McElhinney), an IRA vet who has known Quinlan since the two were young men. Similarly superfluous is Jimmy's grandmother Eleanor (Brenda Fricker, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), who had a fling with Jack during the war. There just seems to be too much effort to tie these ultimately less consequential characters to the main group back in Michigan, where the story should have been focused.
Working with such risible material, old pros MacLaine and Plummer do what they can, although the latter has an embarrassing scene where he's drunk and weepy in a bar. Barton, saddled with lovey dovey malarkey like the passage I cited earlier, actually doesn't come off as poorly as she could have, and she's a veritable Meryl Streep when compared with Amell. Postlethwaite blusters appropriately as Quinlan, and Neve Campbell, to her credit, manages to avoid being annoying, despite that danger being built into her character.
Visually, the film also fails to measure up to previous works by Attenborough. Roger Pratt's cinematography is fine (particularly in the scenes set in Belfast) but certainly nothing like what you'll find in, say, Gandhi or Cry Freedom. This is a very talky movie, granted, but I wish there had been more of an "epic" look to match the emotional heft for which Attenborough was clearly striving.
Genius Products' DVD of Closing the Ring is strong technically; the picture is clean and sharp, and the sound, which has little to do beyond conveying dialogue, music and the odd sound effect, is fine as well. For extras, a trailer and a making-of featurette are included. The featurette runs a skimpy 12 minutes and fritters away most of that time as a lovefest for the script, Attenborough and several cast members. The trailer pretty much tells you the entire story in a much shorter period of time.
It's clear from watching the making-of featurette that those involved with the making of Closing the Ring were sincere in their intentions. Unfortunately, that doesn't make the film any less of a failure, and I can't recommend anything more than a rental to the curious.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R