Dramatic depictions of mortality tend to tell a story of perspective and redemption. While Eric Styles’ screen adaptation of NJ Crisp’s play offers no major exception, the fact that John Hurt assumes the lead-role following his own real-life terminal diagnosis adds a profound dimension and pathos to this affecting film.
Handed with the grim prognosis of six months to live, Ralph (Hurt), a famous writer, makes plans with his private estate, and summons the semi-estranged son, Michael (Max Brown), to his luxurious Portugal residence.
Hopes of reconciliation quickly peter out when the septuagenarian, annoyed by the unexpected presence of Michael’s girlfriend, Cassie (Erin Richards), sets out to antagonise her at every turn.
Although his much-younger wife, Anna (Sofia Helin), is a former nurse, Ralph hides his predicament from her. Instead, he contemplates assisted-suicide in quieter moments, a preoccupation that translates into encounters with a nameless visitor (Charles Dance) who declares himself an agent of a discreet society that helps smooth transitions to after-life.
But as the visitor appears only to Ralph, is heard only by him and, when he shows up, is shrouded in a dream-like milky mist, dressed in an all-white suit as if of the celestial, one begins to suspect he is the personification of death.
As it turns out, it is during these blurrings of boundary between the different worlds of consciousness that perceptions are refracted for truths to be revealed.
Some might say the ending of That Good Night is way too tidy, that resolutions in our quotidian existence are rarely as forthcoming. Still, to me, the movie presents, through its sweeping landscapes and receding horizons in Richard Stoddard’s cinematography and Guy Farley’s pleasing score, what it is which ultimately matters at the finish of our race on earth.
Anchoring these moving reflections is Hurt’s intense yet effortless performance. He holds the work together throughout this 92-minute production, sustained by an authenticity that is raw and relentless. In this, his last leading, act before passing on in January this year, Hurt only proves he shall most definitely “not go gentle into that good night”.