Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is hiding secrets from his friends and coworkers at a swank, upscale boardinghouse in 19th-century Dublin. The fact that he is actually a woman who's been living as a man for the last thirty years is one of several, and it serves as the central issue of a script written by John Banville and Ms. Close, from a short novella by Irish realist George Moore. Rodrigo García, whose previous two films didn't completely disappoint, but left much to be desired, directs this historical drama about women struggling to survive in the male-dominated, morally-staunch Victorian period. In 'Albert Nobbs,' the Colombian-born filmmaker offers a touching character study of a marginalized life that's engaging, but fails to deliver the emotional impact expected of the story.
Albert's career as a diligent and extremely dutiful waiter — as well as his life, in general — comes under threat one fateful night when he is forced to share a room with the recently-hired painter Hubert Page (Janet McTeer). After discovering that Mr. Page is also a missus, an unexpected friendship soon blossoms between the two, which stirs a series of questions that sadly remain unanswered at film's end. While concealing their true gender from others is certainly the most devastating aspect of the plot, the one which initially attracts viewers, Albert's other, smaller secrets are likewise meaningful and add a tragic element to the story. With the money he's being quietly stashing away underneath a loose floorboard, he has dreams of someday owning and operating his own tobacco shop.
This is where the film is at its most engrossing, as it reveals a person we sympathize with and eventually care for, and Close's marvelous performance shines through with heart-rending conviction. We can see that glimmer of hope and aspiration in her portrayal, of a person's strive for overcoming a difficult life and the desire to see years of perseverance payoff. She's matched by McTeer's equally stunning portrait of an abused woman who's finally found her place in the world and succumbed to living it as she pleases. The two play off each other in a remarkable way that feels genuine and unassuming, drawing us deeper into their lives. In the presence of the hotel's wealthy patrons, Albert is a reserved, docile servant, but with Mr. Page as a compatriot, his face brightens with possibilities.
Complications develop when Albert starts to become aware of his lonely status as a bachelor and sets his moping eyes on the flirtatious Helen Dawes (Mia Wasikowska). Unfortunately, the young maid's interests lay with the hotel's handyman Joe Mackins (Aaron Johnson), instigating a love-triangle subplot that does little to move the narrative but plays a big part in the closing moments. The couple's ulterior motives for befriending Albert is meant to build some dramatic tension between the characters, but it only ends up adding a needless interruption to the pace. The same goes for the hotel guests, headed by Brendan Gleeson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who divert our attention and ultimately have little, if anything at all, to do with the film's somewhat meager conclusion.
In the end, 'Albert Nobbs' is noteworthy and can be enjoyed for its stronger aspects, in particular the brilliant portrayals of Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. This is their show, and they carry the entire film with astounding grace and captivating poise, demonstrating once again the Academy's missed opportunity for honoring a pair of truly outstanding performances. It has been a life-long dream of Ms. Close to finally see Moore's tale adapted for the screen, a goal she has pursued since she first performed the titular character in a 1982 stage production. And while the finished product is not exactly the knockout success the wonderful actress probably had hoped for, the period piece is a magnificent display of her and McTeer's talents nonetheless.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings 'Albert Nobbs' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-case. After a series of skippable trailers, viewers are greeted by the standard main menu selection with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
'Albert Nobbs' debuts on Blu-ray with a lovely, stylized 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1), displaying some genuinely stunning photography by Michael McDonough ('Winter's Bone'). Shot entirely on Red One digital cameras, the picture comes with excellent definition of the hotel's interior as well as the architecture of 19th-century Ireland. Facial complexions are revealing with great lifelike texture during close-up, exposing the amazing realism in the make-up work done on Glenn Close. There are, however, several scenes which appear much softer than others or simply lose that same quality of sharpness as the rest.
The intentional cinematography shows a very drab and somber palette in the exterior shots with lots of bluish gray overtones, but things warm up noticeably when characters are inside with nicely-rendered secondary hues occupying the frame. Contrast is, of course, affected by this design, but it's stable and consistent throughout the entire presentation. Black levels, on the other hand, are very deep and true, providing the image with some incredibly dark shadows and some appreciable depth. All in all, it's a terrific-looking transfer.
Being a character-driven drama, 'Albert Nobbs' surprises and exceeds expectations with this very pleasant DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Rear activity offers several moments of subtle envelopment as the hustle and bustle of the hotel is clearly heard all around. Directionality and movement is effortless and fluid, generating a convincing feeling of being in the middle of a natural space. Outdoor sequences, too, come with the random distant sounds of Dublin life, like the distant bark of dogs and carriages driving on the roads. Even Brian Byrne's original score bleeds with amusing restraint, surrounding the listener with terrific fidelity and transparency. Front speakers provide a warm and expansive soundstage with a room-penetrating mid-range and a low-key bass that's well-suited to the material. It's a terrific lossless mix overall.
'Albert Nobbs' comes to Blu-ray day-and-date with the DVD with the same set of supplements.
Based on the short novella by Irish realist George Moore, 'Albert Nobbs' is a period drama about women struggling to survive in the male-dominated, morally-staunch Victorian period. Although the film doesn't finish with the sort of emotional impact it probably aimed for, the brilliant performances of Glenn Close and Janet McTeer make it a worthwhile, memorable watch. The Blu-ray comes with an excellent audio and video presentation and a very small set of special features, making it a very strong rental. Worth a look.