Review by Nathan Samdahl (B-)
In what seems to be a growing trend in recent years, the films that often should get the most attention are brushed aside in favor of heavily promoting wonderful entries such as G.I. Joe or Clash of the Titans. While I love the huge blockbusters (the previously mentioned films not included), I have to wonder: if just a bit of the effort spent bullying out mediocre box office grosses (relative to their budgets) for some of these stinkers was applied to the better films, who knows what might happen. At least a bit more creativity than a slew of Hasbroadaptations, that's for sure.
Sadly, most of the best films of each year are delivered to theaters in a piecemeal fashion, a hundred theaters here, another few hundred there, often to mixed results. Certain films have succeeded in this manor, such as Up In the Air, which ended up grossing almost $84 million domestically. However, many great films have been much less successful. For instance, Frost/Nixon grossed less than $20 million domestically; the Oscar winner for Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, earned a measly $16 million domestically and barely made a splash when it was first released in August '09. With those figures it's sad to think that potentially five to 10 times more people may see an Eddie Murphy disaster then they would the "best picture of the year."
What's even worse is the fate of films that fall in the middle, that are much better than your summer schlock, but not quite in the upper tier. Made in Dagenham would fall into this bunch. A well-executed film with a great British cast, Made in Dagenham tells the story of a group of female Ford factory workers who went on strike to gain equal pay for women and in the process brought England's industry to its knees. Sally Hawkins is excellent as the lead protester Rita O'Grady. While I don't always love the characters she plays, such as her often frustrating character in Happy Go Lucky, Hawkins is one of the most engaging actresses working today. Possessing the quirky facial mannerisms of Audrey Tautou and the incredible range of fellow Mike Leigh favorite Imelda Staunton, Hawkins can make you feel both happy and devastated within a matter of seconds.
Supporting Hawkins in the film is the always-entertaining Bob Hoskins and another Mike Leigh alum, Daniel Mays, who plays Hawkins' husband. Veterans Miranda Richardson and Richard Schiff (Toby from The West Wing) are also great. The beautiful rising star Rosamund Pike, who could compete with Keira Knightley for the face best suited for period films, is also excellent, although a bit underused. Pike plays the wife of one of the main Ford executives fighting the strike and while she shows her support of Hawkins in private, it would have been interesting to see her character become more active in the cause.
Aesthetically, the film is fairly straight forward, although director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls) keeps the story moving at a strong pace. The highlights of the film are probably Hawkins' interactions with the Ford executives as well as with her union, where she lays the smack down on any naysayers, particularly of the male variety.
Films like Made In Dagenham or the recent Stephen Frears film Tamara Drewe are both movies that seem to be falling completely by the wayside. Most people at my place of work had never heard of either film despite their strong casts and experienced filmmakers. But that doesn't mean you have to forget about them. While Made in Dagenham will not win any major awards nor is it groundbreaking cinema, it is a well done film that tells an inspiring story. And personally I'd rather watch a good story over a mediocre special effects onslaught any day.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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