'The Greatest'

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"The Greatest" pulls off a stunning feat, drawing an audience into a comprehensive film about grief. A weekend Sundance crowd was deeply moved and challenged by this vigorously wrought film, which should do a distributor proud on the select-site circuit.

Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon star as the Brewers, an affluent couple whose well-ordered life is shattered when their oldest son is killed in a car crash. It's nothing anyone can prepare for, and this pair, with their happily calibrated life, is particularly susceptible to disaster. The mother becomes obsessed with the minutiae of her son's last moments, most severely by trying to rouse the driver of the other car out of a deep coma. The father tries to remain strong, seeking sanctuary in the recesses of his professorial, mathematical mind. The horrible accident exacerbates their younger son's feelings of alienation and inadequacy.

Further upsetting the Brewers, a young woman appears and rightfully claims that she is carrying their late, idealized son's baby.

In this compelling drama, writer-director Shana Feste transcends a clinical depiction of grief, which in less assured hands could have morphed into a talking-heads essay. In large part this is because of the shaded and nerve-ending performances of the cast: Sarandon is strikingly sympathetic as the brittle, obsessive mother, while Brosnan's calm rectitude smartly masks a man on the verge of imploding. Both performances are daring and brilliantly shaded.

As the young woman pregnant by the deceased son, Carey Mulligan bestows an unlikely, beatific wisdom on the troubled family.

Technical contributions are eloquent under Feste's mature hand, most splendidly Christophe Beck's luminously sad score and production designer Judy Rhee's apt depiction of the family's outer and inner core. (partialdiff)
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