Though it has some flaws that you will have to ignore, director Marc Webb’s “Gifted” is a powerful, emotional film that is impossible to resist. It functions like a cinematic spider that wraps you up in a web that will leave you frequently crying as hard as those on screen. It also has a great musical score, including Cat Stevens’ “The Wind,” that strengthens every scene.
It tells the tale of Frank Adler, played warmly by a bearded Chris Evans, a single man raising his niece, Mary, in a small home in Florida. The child’s mother, Frank’s sister, died years earlier, and he has been trying to raise the young girl in a fashion that would have made her mother proud.
However, it turns out that Mary is a child prodigy who is full of piss and vinegar, and she finds attending the first grade at a local school to be a waste of time. Unsurprisingly, problems immediately develop when her mathematical skills demand greater attention than that provided by Uncle Frank.
Mary’s grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) surfaces and engages in a custody battle that dominates much of the film. Though the courtroom scenes may leave you divorce lawyers shaking your head a bit, they do reveal the anguish that relatives go through as they try to control emotion so as not to drown out good legal advice.
The strength of this fine movie centers on two provocative points. The first is the warm-hearted relationship between an uncle with a hidden past and his adorable niece. Their sincere love for each other will likely warm your heart as it did theirs.
Secondly, the entire film is dominated by the colossal performance of McKenna Grace as the young budding genius. She joins Dafne Keen from “Logan” and AnnJewel Lee Dixon from “The Last Word” as young actresses who dominate the screen with magnificent performances. Grace is astonishing in every scene, and wait until you see her unashamed love and commitment to Fred, her one-eyed cat.
Jenny Slate’s character as Mary’s first-grade teacher becomes a bit of an embarrassing counterweight to the film. While I am not criticizing her for getting drunk with Frank and quickly having sex with him in his home, her love and dedication to Mary was profoundly compromised in the process.
Regardless, “Gifted” is an inspiring family love story that has few comparisons in recent years. Evans makes you quickly forget his performance as Captain America in “Captain America: Civil War,” and he demonstrates acting skills that you would never have anticipated. This movie produces an experience that you will cherish, so don’t let it escape your attention.
Set in Turkey at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, “The Promise” centers on a love triangle taking place in the middle of the Armenian genocide. Ironically, the love story becomes a distraction as you watch the Turkish government execute over a million Armenian people.
It is interesting to note that the same subject was loosely treated in last year’s “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” which also hinged on two men attracted to the same woman. However, that film danced around the Turkish slaughter of Armenians, something that Academy Award-winning director Terry George does not dodge.
In “The Promise,” Michael (Oscar Isaac), an engaged Armenian, travels to Constantinople to study medicine. There, he quickly falls in love with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), the girlfriend of a distinguished American journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bale). Ana has an Armenian background, and she is left wrestling over her admiration for Myers and her passionate attraction for Michael.
Yet love is not a very splendid thing in Turkey at this time, and you watch in horror as the Turkish army rounds up Armenian intellectuals in the streets of Constantinople. Michael disappears after being taken into custody while Chris begins a journey to report the atrocities being hidden by the Turkish government.
What unfolds is a tale of a massive tragedy. Armenians are transported in railroad boxcars to slave labor camps in much the same fashion as the Nazi treatment of Jews in World War II. Though tortured and abused, Michael escapes as he seeks to find a way to save his family in southern Turkey.
Bale paints the picture of a man who tries to hang on to a lover while refusing to be distracted from his goal of telling the world about the genocide that Turkey is trying to keep secret. Isaac’s performance stands right with Bales’, and Michael is left in complete despair as he is forced to choose between a dedicated wife from a forced marriage and the woman of his dreams.
However, Le Bon’s Ana is the focal point of this film around which everything else revolves. She radiates an energy that leaves you transfixed as you watch her wrestle with trying to help Armenian children survive and the consequences of loving two strong, conscientious men.
Whether the love story in this movie weakens it for you, it has undeniable historical significance. It is past time that we force Turkey, now our NATO ally, to acknowledge its attempt to butcher Armenian citizens in World War I.
Then again, Turkey will probably tell us to keep our mouths shut until we apologize for building our country on slave labor and the genocidal elimination of millions of Native Americans. I guess we don’t have clean hands either.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.