Set Apart From Itself
I wonder what it says about me that, as I was watching the credits ([i]of course[/i] I was watching the credits!), I was disappointed to see a scroll go past informing me that "Mr. Leary's guitar solo" was performed by someone else. I'm perfectly aware that not everyone knows how to play an instrument. Honestly, I'm even aware that some people can't be taught to. However, it still kind of saddens me. I mean, Samuel L. Jackson played his own solo in [i]Black Snake Moan[/i]. Richard Gere did his own dancing in [i]Chicago[/i]. (Catherine Zeta-Jones did, too, but she'd had previous training.) Yes, Johnny Depp lip-synched in [i]Cry Baby[/i], but I think John Waters probably thought it was funnier, and Tim Burton didn't let him do it in [i]Sweeney Todd[/i]. I think my feeling here was, "He only had to play for like a minute or two!"
Leary is Bill. Bill is shut up in a mental ward. His doctor is Ann (Hope Davis). What Bill knows, and what Ann denies, is that he was part of a cryogenic experiment. He has been frozen for a long time--I think he thinks it's been four hundred years. He doesn't remember much, but he remembers that. Whereas Ann says it's been a week or so that he's been in there, and they just found him after a car accident. He'll be released when he is no longer a danger to himself or others. However, he knows that they're planning to give him a lethal injection. He'll never get out of there alive, and he knows it. Slowly, Ann helps him remember details about his life before he got there, however he got there. Will it turn out it was a suicide attempt? Is he right about where and when and why he is? Or is there something else going on?
Denis Leary has never broken out of his twenty-year-old persona as that shouty smoking guy. This, I think, is in part because he didn't take roles like this. But I think part of the problem there might be that he was seldom offered them. I heard him complain on the subject in an interview once. Now, I do think he gave a fine performance in [i]The Ref[/i], but I think [i]The Ref[/i] is a seriously underrated film. The issue there is that there's more to the character than just shouting, though of course he does shout a lot. Here, he hardly ever shouts at all, even in flashback. He rambles a lot, and he says things he shouldn't say, but it's all in a very quiet way. He interacts with Ann in a determined way, but there isn't much shouting involved. Arguably, what's really going on is despair, which is very different.
By limiting the characters shown, the film doesn't have to get more involved about the mental health issues involved. Bill interacts with a few of the other patients once, briefly, but his world is mostly limited to Ann, orderly Dayton (Jim Gaffigan), and Ann's supervisor (Maureen Anderman). No matter who's right, there are good and sensible reasons for it. However, from a storytelling perspective, it also means they don't have to show anyone else's problems. Bill's, after all, are supposed to be ambiguous. If they were straightforward, there wouldn't be much story. As it stands, the movie doesn't ask us to take sides. It doesn't matter to the movie if Bill is right or wrong until relatively late in the proceedings. It's also true that the movie mostly does not distract itself with subplot.
On the other hand, I do think we're kind of being cheated from the fact that the movie doesn't have the courage to limit itself even more. The story could arguably have worked better limited to just one room. For starters, there are a few scenes which, while showing us in a pretty jarring way what the true of the situation is, kind of distract from everything else. Okay, yes, the flashbacks couldn't take place in there, though the combination of hallucination, memory, and reality works very well indeed. Still, I'm not sure there's any reason for Ann to be seen anywhere but in the confines of that really quite spacious room, as hospital rooms go. Indeed, that could have made the contrast all the more striking. Though I'll admit the Connecticut November is lovely.