Who wouldn’t want to see a film in which Sir Michael Caine stars? OK, “Jaws: The Revenge” was a skipper, but at age 76, Caine has two Oscars under his belt, been knighted and has made more than 140 (with two upcoming) films. In his latest, “Is Anybody There?” Caine proves to audiences that he is — hands down — one of the best actors in the history of filmmaking.
Caine plays Clarence, an aging magician who is unwittingly placed in an old-age home. He’s as bitter about being there as is the owner’s 10-year-old son, Edward, whose room Clarence now occupies. Edward (Bill Milner) is obsessed with the paranormal to the point of placing a tape recorder under the beds of dying residents. He hopes to glimpse into the afterlife, while Clarence fights to save his dignity as he sinks into dementia. The two forge an unlikely friendship and share the common bond of feeling displaced.
Caine’s Clarence seems eerily like “Alfie” approaching death. He is consumed with regret for having been a womanizer and losing his beloved wife, who is now deceased. Clarence craves forgiveness and eventually finds it in the most unexpected places. He and Edward end up giving each other the gift they want most in life.
“Is Anybody There?” could have gone down a dark, depressing path but instead takes the high road to sweet and touching. The chemistry that evolves between Clarence and Edward is so engrossing to watch that you want more than the film offers. But director John Crowley (“Intermission”) chooses to end the story on such a pitch-perfect note, one can forgive.
Once again, Caine creates another unforgettable screen portrait. His portrayal of Clarence ranks right up there with such memorable performances as Dr. Larch in “Cider House Rules,” Elliott in “Hannah and her Sisters” and the role that no one will ever forget, “Alfie.” He’s the centerpiece in “Is Anybody There?” and, most likely, will be recognized for it at the Oscars next year.
I loved this movie, because it delicately balanced humor and pathos; because it was all about friendships, fears and forgiveness. But, most of all, I loved it because it asks the question, “Is anybody there?” and answers it with compelling compassion.
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