Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Directed by: Richard Eyre
Screenplay by: Patrick Marber (adapted from a novel by Zoe Heller)
Original score by: Philip Glass
Starring: Judi Dench as Barbara Covett, Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart, Bill Nighy as Richard Hart
I had heard so many good things about this movie, but living where I lived at the time the film was released I didn't get to see it in the theater. One of my friends saw it and recommended it to me, but I just never bothered to rent it until last night (Thank you, Amazon.com Video-on-Demand; you are more convenient than driving to Blockbuster.).
Anyway, it was very well directed and edited, and the writing was good. I haven't read the novel, but now I kind of want to just so I can compare the two. I normally don't talk about the music in movies even though I always notice it, but I can't write about Notes on a Scandal without mentioning the original score. It was fantastic. Composer Philip Glass is a genius if you ask me. Music really does set the tone of a film, and creating the right score is a crucial part of the filmmaking process. The whole movie has this constant feeling of tension, like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter until it finally breaks, and Glass did a great job capturing that feeling in the music. He used a lot of strings, which are always good for tension-building. Glass was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, but did not win (he lost to the guy who wrote the score for Babel, which, coincidentally, also stars Cate Blanchett and is on my list of to-see movies this year).
Okay, Judi Dench. Holy crap, she was amazing in this movie (nominated for an Oscar but lost to Helen Mirren). Her character is a true sociopath. Frightening. There are a few moments where I almost felt sorry for her, but then she'd do something awful and I'd think, "Never mind, I knew I disliked her for a reason." Dench does this great thing, something I can't really describe, where she makes you feel uncomfortable the entire time you're watching; like whatever this woman is planning is NOT GOOD. It's quite disturbing. The character narrates her diary entries throughout the movie, which I actually liked (normally I'm not a fan of narration), and it really gives a lot of insight into this very sad, pathetic woman.
I love Cate Blanchett in pretty much anything, so this movie was no exception. Blanchett plays a high school teacher who becomes sexually involved with one of her 15-year-old male students. She captured Sheba's naivete very well. I should probably note here that Cate was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance but lost to Jennifer Hudson(!). I had a little trouble completely connecting to the character only because the film doesn't really go into exactly why Sheba does what she does. She has a seemingly happy home life with a much older husband (Bill Nighy) who obviously adores her and two great kids (one of which suffers from Down Syndrome). I feel like maybe the novel goes into more detail about Sheba's background and personal life, and maybe the filmmakers chose to cut some of that out. Despite those problems, I still enjoyed Cate's performance especially toward the end of the movie when her transgressions are discovered.
More than anything, I wish Bill Nighy had had a larger role as Sheba's husband Richard. Although he has a relatively small role compared to Dench and Blanchett, he does soooo much with it. I really felt for Richard, and there is one scene that is completely heartbreaking. I wanted to slap Sheba across the face and ask her what the hell she was thinking because Richard seems like such a decent guy and a good father who doesn't deserve anything that happens to him. I wish the movie had delved just a little deeper into Richard and Sheba's relationship (Again, maybe the novel does?), but overall Nighy's performance was wonderfully understated. I always think of Nighy as the washed-up musician from Love, Actually, but I may remember him more for this role from now on...hmm, not sure.
Overall, it was a solid film. The music and acting were both superb. I wish a couple of the characters had been slightly more developed, but other than that I don't have any complaints. I'd give it three out of four stars (Because, ya know, I'm totally a professional movie critic! Ha.).