Thursday, December 08, 2011

Review: The Iron Lady

My only significant gripe against The Iron Lady is that it's not a sequel to Iron Giant, nor Iron Man. Can you imagine how cool either of those would be? A massive robot played by Meryl Streep, stomping the Soviet Union with her feet and snuffing out the troubles in the Falkland Islands with her little finger? Or an ironclad, jetpack-equipped Streep, blowing away government spending with a laser blast from her hand while blasting away gender barriers with a smart bomb deployed from her hip?

As it stands, The Iron Lady is no slouch. If the British are good at anything, it’s navel gazing. The incestuous tabloid culture and brainy BBC documentaries spawns self-analysis at a staggering level, approaching that of Terrell Owens. Thus the film industry produces fantastic introspections of its great historical figures, with recent examples being The Queen and The King’s Speech.

The biopic on Margaret Thatcher belongs in those regal ranks. I’d have settled for a straightforward tale of a feminist and humanitarian icon who led England through geopolitical and economic challenges, providing skilled leadership and symbolizing strength and solidarity. But this movie is far more than that, bookmarking Thatcher’s political exploits with shattering scenes of Thatcher in old age, coming to terms with the fragments left of her life. To succeed as a politician, she had to fail on some level as a mother and a wife. The great woman wrestles with her perceived inadequacies and lingering ghosts that haunt her fading mind. It’s here that Meryl Streep truly shines in the role.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, the film is a handsome, robust and multifaceted portrait of the political figure, bolstered by a superb performance by Streep, who immediately shakes off any second-guessing about the casting. Unlike her lauded yet single-note performance of Julia Child in Julie and Julia, Streep shows formidable range and depth. She captures Thatcher's political dynamism, as well as her late-life physical and mental troubles. The result is not only a vivid portrait of a political force who fought for her vision with might and enthusiasm, but a tender reflection of a woman coming to terms with her mortality.
The film could have been plodding, handsome and stately and still worthy of a measure of praise. But The Iron Lady echoes its protagonist by shattering expectations, leading you through a breathless escapade and leaving you staring into the sad, desperate void of mortality. Neither Iron Men nor Iron Giants nor Iron Lions in Zion have anything on this stunning movie.
Starring Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent. Written by Abi Morgan. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. 105 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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