Combustible Celluloid
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With: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Jessica Barden
Written by: David Nicholls, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and violence
Running Time: 119
Date: 05/01/2015

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Madding' About You

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, The Hunt) was previously preoccupied with cruelty and pain, but somehow his Far from the Madding Crowd — adapted from the 1874 Thomas Hardy novel — winds up as a beautifully pulsing, organic creation. This kind of movie is often a festival for costume fetishists, but here the fresh, full-blooded cinematography emphasizes natural spaces and colors, and Vinterberg is clearly more interested in the characters' emotional, romantic entanglements than in being stuffy or classy.

Shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) spots a new neighbor, Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), and is immediately taken with her. He proposes marriage, but she rebuffs him. She inherits her uncle's vast, but run down farm and moves away. When Gabriel loses his flock, he leaves, winds up helping to save Bathsheba's farm from a fire, and lands a job there. Meanwhile, another neighbor, the older William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) proposes marriage, but she likewise rebuffs him. A dashing, devilish soldier (Tom Sturridge) succeeds in winning her hand, but his gambling threatens to destroy the farm. Bathsheba continues to struggle to stand on her own two feet, but will she ever find true love?

The casting is picture-perfect, with Schoenaerts — formerly a brute in movies like Bullhead and The Drop — as an appealingly soft-spoken soul, and Sheen as a tender, heartbroken one. Sturridge is the villain of the piece, but he's allowed to be devilish and dashing, with a seductive side. But Mulligan shines in a surprisingly, refreshingly modern role; a woman who is capable of handling her own business and does not require a man to fulfill her or control her.

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