A retired orchestra conductor is on holiday with his daughter and his film director best friend in the Alps when he receives an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II to perform for Prince Philip’s birthday.
Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are two of film’s most versatile and accomplished actors and what an unlikely pairing they make. Both actors have graced the silver screen for over fifty years and combined, they have created a smorgasbord of vastly divergent and disparate characters, some likable, others, not so much but in the end, regardless of what personification they were embodying, one thing was certain; you couldn’t take your eyes off them.
“Youth” is a movie that allows its audience to go behind the facade that is maturity. Or as some people call it, old age. Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a retired composer and conductor while Harvey Keitel plays Mick Boyle, a film director who is still working but both men, friends for most of their lives, are on vacation at an exclusive, luxurious hotel and spa at the foot of the Swiss Alps. They meet each other every morning for breakfast and again for dinner in the evening, where they observe everyone around them, especially the young people. Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) turns up at the hotel inconsolable after having been dumped by her husband Julian (Ed Stoppard), on their way to a romantic getaway. Julian just happens to be Mick’s son and has fallen head-over-heels for beautiful pop-star, Paloma Faith, playing herself. His reason for leaving Lena is because supposedly, she wasn’t very good in bed.
When the emissary for Queen Elizabeth II approaches Fred about performing one of his most celebrated works, “Simple Songs,” for Prince Philip’s birthday concert, he politely refuses. Taken aback, the emissary states that he will stop at nothing to get him on board but Fred cites ‘personal reasons’ and then asks him to leave. Mick has four young screenwriters staying with him in his suite and together, they all work night and day, to finish the screenplay for Mick’s latest film, who many perceive will also be his last. Along the way, Fred befriends Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), a young famous American actor who is known more for playing the part of a robot in a silly sci-fi movie than the independent films he truly loves to make.
These characters are invariably involved in each other’s lives on a daily basis, sometimes up close, other times from afar but it’s quite evident early on, none of them can stop analyzing each other, not for flaws in their characters or their lives, but rather for attributes that they feel are missing from theirs. Caine and Keitel, as they feel their lives slowing down, can’t help but look at the young people surrounding them, which brings them back to their youth when both had a sense of optimism that they would live forever. As we all grow older, it’s almost impossible for us not to look back, the mistakes we made, the goals we set for ourselves that were never achieved or indeed, the goals we accomplished and then wondered what was next.
“Youth” takes its time telling its story, and while parts of the film are inordinately slow, it more than makes up for it with an excellent cast. While the entire ensemble shine in their respective roles, this movie belongs to Caine and Keitel. They give wonderfully nuanced performances and while both have made names for themselves playing thundering, larger-than-life characters, here, they tone it all the way down and metamorphose into the kind of people you would want to be friends with, flawed, unpretentious people who never profess to be better than they are. Director Paolo Sorrentino and cinematographer Luca Bigazzi give their Swiss location an immaculate and authentic look, utilizing beautiful and smooth camera angles, allowing the majestic locale to fill part of the screen while the actors fill the other part with their refined performances.
Opening at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas & Plano December 18th
For more info about James visit his website at www.IrishFilmCritic.com