The Designated Mourner

Newcity Chicago

DIRECTED BY: David Hare

REVIEWED: 11-10-97

Mike Nichols astonishes in David Hare's filming of Wallace Shawn's most recent play. On the page, Shawn's apocalyptic harangue seems hermetic, awaiting the right voice to bring disturbing, despairing thoughts to life. All three performers in this extended, direct-address piece are wonderful -- David de Keyser as Howard, a poet and essayist whose early work brands him as subversive in the view of an unnamed, unseen, increasingly repressive regime, and Miranda Richardson, Howard's daughter, who marries the glib, charming, ultimately cowardly Jack (Nichols). Richardson breezes through her words with an enchanting theatricality, but Nichols, in his first leading film role is the show. Jack goes through a series of shifts as the monologues unfold, giving up a life of ideas and the intellectual elite and eventually embracing the jackboots, the jobs, the future. He is the last left to mourn high culture. Nichols performed the play under Hare's direction at the National Theatre in London, reportedly through the use of a Teleprompter. In the film, which Hare shot in three days, Nichols mesmerizes with his vocal tricks, tics, harrumphs, purrs and coughs. A sometimes masterful director proves himself a master performer. 95m.

--Ray Pride

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