This one’s about death. Well, dying. Well, grumpy dying in a gorgeous environment with a dream wife, a Mr Death daydream (possibly), a blank-faced on-the-emotional-nose son and a moment of proper horror in a swimming pool. It stars John Hurt, who rises so far above the material old Jack here wept through the credits, a glorious Algarve and a lot of sad-arsed music. A career swansong from Hurt, it is only through his mastery of his craft that any of this lands outside the land of soap, but he is a master being brilliant, so you will feel the loss of him in That Good Night.
Oh, but Hurt is so good. He plays a grouchy old writer who married particularly well, albeit not to the mother of his son. He’s a rude, rude man who says what he thinks and marches forward in intellectual arrogance to decide what the world should be. And what people are. It’s like Mad Maud in the Post Office queue, slapping her way through children, fat chavs and anyone who hesitates by the window. You get the sense almost immediately, mostly though Hurt rather than the script, that the old writer has alienated everyone forever. His son is pissed at him for wanting him aborted (weirdly), or even bothering to meet him before his fifth birthday. His wife is similarly pissed, but deals with it by treating him like an incontinent family pet (“one more bit of shit, you lovable old thing? Come heeeeere…”). And she didn’t get a child out of him. Even his son’s wife, introduced here with the kind of looks-based commentary that makes me feel bad about some of these reviews, is instantly insulted, gives it another go in a restaurant, and is basically called a corporate whore for her pains.
So, Hurt’s Ralph is demonstratively a dick making dick moves. But, like I said, he gifts the guy smarts, intellect and ultimately a conscience. He is – even at his worst – utterly sympathetic and central to your attention – and ill.
Which explains why Ralph contacts The Society, some kind of euthanasia club, which brings Charles Dance to the villa for some pointedly brightly-lit chats in a white-suit. There’s a syringe and a hiccup in the plot…and more than a touch of the Twilight Zone.
The script sort of helps in places. There’s a local pool boy who chats with Ralph about writing, sharing adventure stories of mighty flying fish. He humanises the old goat. Sofia Helin does the same, although I was mostly entranced by seeing her do actual emotion after the strictures of The Bridge. Max Brown as son Michael isn’t given a fair shot, really, blowing his emotional ballast in his first scene and waiting around for rapprochement. Erin Richards as Michael’s other half, Cassie, highlights Ralph’s awfulness with more energy and life than the words give her to work with. So, like I said, the script nearly helps.
And the rest is waiting for Hurt’s old bastard to warm up a bit and die. He has an accident in the swimming pool, looking a thousand years old and terrifyingly purple as he is pulled free, but that’s not the end. The scene has resonance, though, given it made the whole TV Room feel properly vulnerable and…well…like Hurt’s colouring and wrinkles were far too realistic given the tenor of the movie.
And then things glide to the inevitable end.
Look, That Good Night is all about John Hurt saying goodbye. It’s like that Queen video where Freddie Mercury mouths “I love you” at the end, knowing his own terminal state. And Hurt is beautiful and powerful and masterful at the end. He gets to read out Yeats and Thomas in the voiceover, and the thing springs into a different kind of class when Charles Dance as The Visitor from The Society parries words with the old grump. But two class acts can’t improve a weak script, placid direction, irritating music and indistinct supporting characters.
Still, here’s to the man and his last moment in the sun. He outshone it, but then he always had.