One of those struggling-class, slice-of-life, gray comedies that the Englishseem to be cranking out at a rate of six or seven a year lately, "AmongGiants" has the significant advantage of having been written by SimonBeufoy, who penned >"The Full Monty," this genre's biggest hit.
It also boasts a pair of engrossingly honest, emotionallyraw but reserved performances by Pete Postlethwaite ("Romeo+ Juliet" and the similarly themed "BrassedOff") and Rachel Griffiths ("Hilary and Jackie"), starring as the foreman of a handyman crew and the backpackingnomad whose feelings for him have her thinking about staying put for thefirst time in her life.
But there's one big problem with "Among Giants"-- a third, ostensibly central character seems to have been promoted fromsupporting role status without any thought to fleshing him out to justifyhis extra screen time.
The character is Steven (James Thornton), one of Postlethwaite'sruddy English day laborers, who have been hired to paint 15 miles of powertowers in three months for 90 quid a day -- the steadiest work any of themhave had in ages.
In the beginning, Steven figures to be important to theplot somehow -- perhaps as a corner of a love triangle. But after an earlyscene in which he goes out of his way to impress Griffiths' pretty, self-reliantAustralian adventurer (by scaling the walls of a pub to show off his rockclimbing skills), he becomes this rudderless, sullen malcontent, so vaguelydrawn that his motives, desires and relationships muddy at best.
The character's near-uselessness is maddeningly distractingin what is otherwise a exemplary sample of simple yet delightfully stimulating,and uniquely British, storytelling.
Centering the action around the grubby crew's race to finishtheir job on time, first-time director Sam Miller infuses the story withan understated sense of humor and makes cinematic use of the utility towersas a backdrop for the heart of the film -- the fervent but ultimately laboriousrelationship between romantically doleful Ray (Postlethwaite) and stubbornlyindependent Gerry (Griffiths).
When Miller stays focused on the romantic tension and emotionalbaggage between these restless lovers, "Among Giants" shines.Postlethwaite's expressively chiseled face that cracks into a kind andblinding smile makes him an uncommon choice for a romantic lead, but hisdeep sincerity and infectious charm are understandably seductive to Gerry.(Although Postlethwaite's best scene is a visit to his ex-wife, thick withresentment and animosity.)
Griffiths keeps pace, playing the struggle between herheart and her intrinsic wanderlust subtly at first, but Gerry graduallybegins to sabotage herself over her fear of settling down.
Ribald but good-natured ribbing is the hallmark of thescenes with the painting crew -- of which Gerry becomes a member, to theinitial chagrin of Ray's beer-swilling, butt-scratching bunch -- and thesescenes counter-balance the movie's heavier emotional elements.
I found myself quite invested in "Among Giants."Although it is not as riotous as "Monty," its intimacy and characteristicallygruff laughs make it a similarly astute observation of the English factorytown working-class.
If only it were easier to ignore the ambiguous, underdevelopedSteven. It's hard to focus on the engaging performances of Griffiths andPostlethwaite when part of your mind is busy trying to figure out what,exactly, the guy is doing there. Is he is Ray's friend or a relative? Ishe falling for Gerry, too?
I really enjoyed this movie, but if these questions weremore readily resolved, I would have liked it better.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 1st April 1999
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Arts Council of England, British Screen Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 5.8 / 10
Director: Sam Miller
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