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TIFF Film Review: ‘Living’ is the Bill Nighy Show

Sony Pictures Classics

For a full nine months, Living and I were playing film festival phone tag. First, it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. More recently, the movie played at both the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF is where it finally happened for me, and to be sure, the lead performance is worth all of the praise given to it in 2022. That aspect is so on point, the slow nature of the rest of the flick is more than forgivable. Playing at Toronto, it’s an adequate enough character study, but one with the character in question going above and beyond.

Living is the Bill Nighy show. He’s doing a ton here, while also keeping it incredibly subtle. Nighy is completely on point with the tone of the film, which asks you to have a lot of patience. Those willing to put in the time with this movie will have that investment rewarded, but it’s certainly a work that lives and dies with its leading man turn.

Sony Pictures Classics

This is an English language remake of Akira Kurosawa‘s Ikiru, or at least the screenplay. This time, the story is set in London in the 1950s. Mr. Williams (Nighy) is a British bureaucrat who has been in a long funk. We see him going through the motions at work, before time spent at home, where he has a son (Barney Fishwick) and daughter-in-law (Patsy Ferran) who shrug off his very existence. It takes nothing less than a death sentence, in the form of a terminal illness diagnosis, to jar him from his malaise.

As Williams searches for meaning, he interacts with a hedonistic stranger (Tom Burke), as well as an upbeat younger colleague named Margaret Harris (Aimee Lou Wood). At work, Williams begins to become more of a hot blooded human being, noticed by folks like newcomer employee Mr. Wakeling (Alex Sharp). Those familiar with the Kurosawa source material will know how things go, but whether you’re going in blind or know everything, Nighy sells it with aplomb.

Sony Pictures Classics

Bill Nighy has never been better than he is here. Nighy never strikes a false note in playing this character who comes alive as his time runs short. The actor is best known for lighter fare like About Time and Love Actually for Richard Curtis, but he’s aces in Living, truly. Supporting players, besides those mentioned above (who are all solid), include Zoe Boyle, Richard Cunningham, Adrian Rawlins, Lia Williams, and more.

Director Oliver Hermanus and writer Kazuo Ishiguro have a great deal of respect for what Kurosawa achieved, even if he in turn was also doing an adaptation, that of a Leo Tolstoy novella. Hermanus and Ishiguro don’t do much to change the Kurosawa film, outside of a change in setting, but having Nighy on hand helps immensely. What could have been too dry instead becomes laser focused on your appreciating the veteran actor.

Living is mainly worth seeing for Bill Nighy. He’s so good, everything else that might have been annoying fades into the background. It’s never a bore, but the highlight is watching Nighy in action. It took until TIFF to finally see the flick, but it was more or less worth the wait…

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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