Director: Ritesh Batra
Cast: Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern
Watch Our Souls at Night online in the UK: Netflix UK
After making a bit of a splash a few years back with The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra gets starry with an adaptation of Kent Haruf’s best-selling novel Our Souls At Night, with a fantastic cast coming together for a film that seems to fill a remit so far relatively untried for Netflix (see also: Grace and Frankie): the “Grey Pound”.
A gentle, inoffensive drama about love late in life and how the sins of the past can threaten to ruin it, it’s fair to say that excitement levels are at a relatively low level throughout, but Our Souls at Night starts with a hell of a set-up: Jane Fonda’s Addie asks Robert Redford’s Louis if she would spend the night with him, not for sexual satisfaction, but literally just for company. The feeling of being alone at night with a partner away is something many will be able to feel, but only those late in life have the cruel tang of knowing what it is to be in bed alone after decades of having someone else with them. This is well played by both Redford and Fonda, who make their relationship warm and believable throughout, although the way this is presented falls close to parody at times.
The idea of two people finding each other late in life is played with a bizarre insistence that this is a strange concept. While Louis’ initial reluctance to enter Abbie’s home through the front door in fear of being seen is understandable enough, a sequence where they “go public” for the first time is unintentionally funny, with what seems like every single person they pass twisting themselves into contortions to see the event and one extra even mouthing “oh my god”. Blame can solely be placed at Batra’s feet here: Redford and Fonda play the sequence with class, but frankly it’s rather cringe-worthy.
The film’s overall quality is also sadly impacted by what feels like a lack of care in the construction of the piece. The look feels thoroughly TV movie-esque, and not the good, expansive kind becoming more commonplace of late – this feels like a Hallmark movie with dreary cinematography and, at times, strange continuity errors (a highlight being a tree that appears behind Fonda as if from nowhere). The events within also feel pretty cookie-cutter: despite some solid, underplayed moments of revelation, the details feel lazy. Abbie’s grandson is introduced as a monosyllabic Clash of Clans addict early on and it takes little effort to see where his character goes. The same, too, for Matthias Schoenarts, a fantastic actor who is stuck here playing an alcoholic bad-guy seemingly intent on ruining the central relationship with barely any cause.
Yet for all of this, the central duo are fantastic together and make the whole thing just about worth watching by the end. If it’s not either of their “great” performances, it is wonderful to see them together and the moments of quiet joy between them are a treat. It’s a shame that the film around them isn’t stronger, but diehard fans of the couple will have a good time.
Our Souls at Night is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.