True confessions time. I have a thing for Viggo Mortensen. My husband and friends know about it. Viggo doesn’t, as far as I know. It’s not a crazed stalker sort of thing, just being intrigued. It started in 2009 when I saw him at the Telluride Film Festival . . . I know, I know, you don’t care.
More confessions: Quality English-language films can be hard to come by here in rural southwestern France. During a recent film drought, I got antsy. “Well, gee, I haven’t seen Viggo* in a while.” My husband would challenge whether there was an actual drought. Anyway, what better choice than to stream Everybody Has a Plan, where Viggo plays twins?! Turns out that I could have made any number of far better choices.
This is Argentine director Ana Piterbarg’s first feature-length film. Piterbarg seems eager to tell us a moving, multi-dimensional story yet she loses her way. We’re left perplexed and unsatisfied by a plot that touches fleetingly on betrayal, childhood abuse, familial and marital estrangement, existential crises, crime, mystery, and a sweet love story. No single thread loops its way through the disparate themes of the screenplay to evolve into a sustained, weight-bearing knot. I feel disappointed for her! I wanted to love the film.
Argentina was Viggo’s homeland for a decade of his childhood, and this film marks his acting debut there. He was involved in the film’s production, and rumors have it that the multi-lingual Viggo personally developed the English subtitles, to ascertain their accuracy. What a guy! I wonder if this is a passion project for him and Piterbarg. A problem with such multi-disciplinary projects is that the creators can lose objectivity and miss the dangling threads. Or so it seems here.
Viggo’s performance is the reason to see this film, and I’m pretty sure that’s not a statement of my blind devotion. The cinematographer, Lucio Bonelli, makes some terrific, inspired contributions, too.
As Agustín, the physician who has recoiled from his existing life, Viggo is remote, silent, passive, tender and occasionally erupts with unforeseen strength. As Pedro, the twin, a beekeeper and sometime corrupt smuggler, he is threatening, beguiling, physically disheveled and ever so slightly more loquacious, words often delivered as grunts. Only the most assured, masterful actor could so effortlessly slide between these two divergent, yet occasionally intersecting, characterizations. I was transfixed by his performances and ceased to care about the story (which I won’t flesh out completely).
In a set of scenes when Pedro confronts his estranged brother and the two appear together, we’re treated to the virtuoso’s greatness and breadth. He seems to shape-shift, his two characters having little in common but a straggly beard. There’s a reason Viggo is respectfully celebrated as an actor, and it’s not because of those soulful blue eyes. Though I must say, he uses his eyes very effectively for a silent form of language. In these scenes, Pedro is dying and “asks” Agustín to kill him. During the moment when we least expect it, Agustín does the deed. This scene is quite nicely done.
For the remainder of the film, Agustín, assumes the bleak life of his brother. He leaves Buenos Aires for his childhood home, the Argentine Tigre Delta, where the deceased Pedro kept his bees and made a crime-riddled muck of his life. Viggo magnificently maintains Agustín’s persona while pretending to be Pedro. We actually see his struggle; he can’t quite not be himself while trying to assume the posture of his brother. The subtle obviousness of the struggle is extraordinary. So fine, in fact, that it’s an embarrassment to the film that supporting characters don’t immediately suspect something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (The actor, of course, is part Danish, and in 2010 was knighted by the queen.)
The understated double performances of the film’s star are finely tuned and nuanced, making the highly impassioned performances of other characters, such as Soledad Villamil as Agustín’s wife, and Daniel Fanego as Pedro’s partner in nefarious activities, seem misplaced and overdone. Only Sofia Gala as Rosa, the much-too-young-to-be-believable love interest of both brothers, conveys convincing, appropriate shades of subtlety. And still, her part in the film seems incomplete.
For the future, I wouldn’t dismiss Ana Piterbarg. She has terrific insight into the human condition, specifically the nature of emotional pain and yearning. She’s sure to give us a winner when her screenplays and directorial skills mature.
I’d hoped that Everybody Has a Plan would be as rich and abhorrently compelling as director David Cronenberg’s excellent 1988 twins escapade, Dead Ringers. Viggo is every bit as effective as Jeremy Irons was playing the “dead ringer” twins, but the films don’t exist on the same plane of expertise. To see what Viggo can do with a great screenplay, watch him under maestro Cronenberg’s direction in A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, and A Dangerous Method.
For we Viggo fans, disappointment needn’t linger. I invite you to impatiently await the release of his next film, The Two Faces of January, slated for this year.
*Forgive my use of the more personal “Viggo” throughout, eschewing the more formal surname. Viggo is an original. Could there be another?
Directed by Ana Piterbarg – Argentina 2012
Written by Ana Piterbarg and Ana Cohan
Reviewed by Suz