Review: Hyde Park on Hudson
This film was initially published/reviewed as part of our TIFF 2012 coverage
REVIEW: Bill Murray as FDR? I know, I know- sounds like a stretch, right? Certainly, Murray's a pro, but being such an iconic presence, I had my doubts that Murray would be able to be convincing in the part, as he's so damn identifiable. I guess you readers can chalk this up as yet another one of the many times my assumptions have proven wrong, as throughout Roger Michell's HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, I was astonished at how thoroughly Murray disappears into the role, to the extent that at times I actually forgot I was watching Murray.
He's thoroughly invested, with him adopting FDR's patchy complexion, his clipped speech, his smile, his way of peering down through his spectacles, and- his physical limitations, with Murray doing a credible job on crutches portraying a man rendered virtually immobile by polio.
But- while I absolutely loved Murray's performance, as a film, HYDE PARK ON HUDSON is a pleasant enough way to spend ninety minutes, but not a particularly great film. The problem, for me anyways, is that for too much of the film- the thing that makes it great, Murray as FDR, is given a backseat. Rather, it's Margaret Suckley, as played by Laura Linney's story. Linney is a wonderful actress, and she brings a warmth to Suckley- in stark parallel to Olivia Williams as the tough Eleanor Roosevelt, who at this point in their marriage is more of a confessor/friend to FDR than spouse. With the weight of his world on his shoulders, it's easy to see how he could fall for the quiet, kind Margaret, although it becomes clear early on that she's not his only mistress.
The story is intriguing enough, but considering what was going on in the world at the time, I would have been much more interested in watching a film that focuses on the politics rather than the romance. I guess the model here is THE KING'S SPEECH, but that in itself is a problem, as this covers a lot of the same ground as that far superior film. Samuel West does a good job as King George VI, and doesn't do a Colin Firth impression, even if it is tough watching him in the part after it was played so memorably only a few years ago. However- there is one stunning, lengthy scene where FDR and the King have a few after-hours martinis that is as good as anything from KING'S SPEECH.
I'm sure that HYDE PARK ON HUDSON will find a niche audience when it comes out later this fall- but it's really only Murray's performance that distinguishes this as a must-see. Still- it's good enough that Murray is likely going to be in the Oscar race. In fact, I'd wager it's inevitable.