Movie Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
By Matt Patton
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
Director: Ned Benson
Starring: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, William Hurt
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a tale of sorrow, consequence, honesty, and a slew of other human emotions either too strikingly obvious to lend credence or too painfully sincere to acknowledge. As is usually the case in film (and sometimes life), love becomes the driving narrative force. Immediately from the first scene, we become acquainted with Conor (James McAvoy) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain), a young couple of New York urbanites that seem to be very much infatuated with one another. Minutes after the title card, however, we jump forward in time and become confronted with a different tone and situation entirely as we are presented with a fractured relationship between the two. Their lives have been marred with tragedy. We’re not privy to the specifics of the situation at first, and this works to the advantage of the film – the more and more we learn about the lives of Conor and Eleanor, the better we’re able to empathize with them when the events of their past come to light.
It’s quite the ambitious film – or I should say “films” – three distinct versions of this project exist: Him (from Conor’s perspective), Her (from Eleanor’s perspective), and Them (elements of the two singular films edited together). Him/Her don’t come out for another month, so the review you’re reading applies to the Them edit of the film. This entire concept is the brainchild of first-time writer/director Ned Benson, who worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to put his vision of pursuing “identity within relationships” to film. As a premier effort, it does suffer from some of the same issues that commonly plague other first directorial efforts among the film world. At times the dialogue can get airy and cliché, and there tends to be some fat that could have been trimmed in the editing room. Otherwise, I definitely consider myself among the fans of Benson’s directorial style. Long, deliberate takes allow viewers to focus upon the performances of the two leads (which I’ll get to in a moment), and the intimate camerawork elegantly blends his characters into the vast expanse of New York City.
The acting, from McAvoy and Chastain down to the supporting cast, is top notch. This just might be Chastain’s best performance of her career thus far – and that’s saying something when her performances from Zero Dark Thirty and Tree of Life are taken into consideration. McAvoy himself seems to be on a career uptick, following up last year’s fantastic Filth and Trance with this gem. Bill Hader shows up in a much more dramatic turn than he’s been seen in the past; and appearances from solid veteran actors such as Viola Davis, William Hurt, and Ciaran Hinds certainly don’t harm the film at all.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby operates in the same thematic area as contemporary classics Atonement and Blue Valentine, and fans of those pieces will certainly find elements to appreciate here. I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the singular chapters of this story still to be released