Meryl Streep received her eighth Oscar nomination for playing the infamous Lindy Chamberlain, the Australian woman who claimed that her baby was killed by a dingo in the movie A Cry in the Dark. Although this performance seems to be one of the most celebrated and admired performances and many bloggers pick Meryl for the win nowadays, I don't think it had much of a chance of earn Meryl her third Oscar. Despite winning over critics (and later the jury of the Cannes Film Festival), she wasn't that strong of a contender for the Best Actress prize, I suppose simply because of the fact that her fellow nominees were all Oscarless and she had already won two. But if you really look she gave at the Oscars, she seemed a bit pissed (at least more than usual). Her die-hard fans must be saying that she was pulling for her overdue friend (which I would totally understand).
I've always found A Cry in the Dark a very compelling and excellently directed picture. I wouldn't put it on my personal Best Picture ballot, but I have always thought highly of it. The director, Frank Schepisi did an excellent job, in my opinion. I especially loved the fact that we could see the reactions of the everyday people who were talking to each other about the case. And the media's part in this case is very well and subtly shown, I never felt that they were screaming directly about the media's fault (I want to say some names who would be but I try to hold myself back...). I also have to mention Sam Neill's extremely strong and effective performance, which had a great deal to do with the movie's success with me.
However, A Cry in the Dark is clearly about Meryl Streep and her acting abilities. It really was up to her to make this movie great and multi-dimensional. It takes a very special, extremely talented actress to pull that off, but I think we all agree that Meryl is such an actress. It's kind of weird to talk about Meryl Streep in general now that she's a three-time Oscar Winner. First, because we have to get rid of the old habit of writing down "Why can't they just give her that f-ing third?". Second, I'm still quite ecstatic to reminisce about that heart-stopping moment. Besides, what new can you say about Meryl's talent that hasn't been said before? Nothing really.
The fact is, Meryl often gets parts when peopl say: why her (again)? And then everyone says they couldn't imagine this movie with anyone else. This time I was really wondering how an Australian actress would have done in such a part. However, Meryl made this part her own so much that any thought like that left my mind. She becomes one with her character and we don't see Meryl Streep on the screen anymore, only Lindy Chamberlain, a not too likeable and weird character.
Lindy Chamberlain is a very tricky character and Meryl made her extremely an complex creature. I lacked the real development in the cases of Jodie, Siggy and Melanie, but boy, was Meryl satisfactory in that way (as well)! I'd say that in this aspect, she even beats Great Glenn's achievement in Dangerous Liaisons. Meryl perfectly showed the changes in her character and she knew exactly what and when to show things to the audience. And strangely enough, I can't say that Meryl is so calculating here. I often point out when she does overcalculate but this time I felt that everything was coming naturally from her, while she was also being extremely aware and careful.
When Meryl accepted the Australian Film Insitute Best Actress award this year, she joked about how she won two awards for playing two women who were the most hated in their respective countries. And you can actually easily spot the resemblances between these two performances: both of them are very dedicated, determined women who hold onto their beliefs without questioning them. Meryl approached them both with lots of sympathy and yet she unapologetically revealed all the flaws in them and as a result, she created 100% realistic people whose emotions cover a wide range, who act in many different way and who might make wrong decisions sometimes. There's coldness in both ladies and yet somehow you feel sorry for them despite all their mistakes. Above all, Meryl humanises her characters (in Thatcher's and Chambarlain's cases, some might say monsters, not me) and lets us get into these women's heads as much as she did.
Meryl takes advantage of the situation that the audience knows that Lindy is innocent, while people in the story are uncertain about the even. As a result, Meryl is able to create such tension on the screen, especially in the courtroom scenes. She puts so much emotion into her speeches without trying to make them obvious Oscar clips. And the fact that they turned out to be Oscar clips are more due to Meryl's greatness in them. She doesn't push for your attention and never chooses to chew the scenery, even though the temptation must have been very strong. And no, she never says 'A dingo ate my baby.' :-)
And yes, the accent: along with Out of Africa's Danish accent, this one seems to be Meryl's most famous. Geraldine Page said years earlier that one can't really believe that Meryl can speak normally. And I actually have to agree. She speaks so naturally and with so much confidence that you really can't decide if she's Australian.
Meryl also has excellent chemistry with Sam Neill and the two actors support each other very well. It was great that Meryl didn't push to steal all the spotlight and she sometimes stepped back to let Neill have his big scene. They both wonderfully showed how much these couple tries to see God's purposes in everything. They make up such a great couple that it's hard to believe that the real Chamberlains divorced a couple of years later.
Although Meryl is naturally fantastic here, I didn't really adore her here, at least not as much as I wanted to. This is the kind of performance that people expect you to idolise and you feel weird when you have to say: I loved her but she didn't completely blow me away. I can go on and on about her, say many adjectives that are actually true, but a bit separately and not together, if you know what I mean. It's not that she's not fantastic, it's just that I cannot get as passionate about her as many others. Still, I can't say a bad word about this performance as I really couldn't spot mistakes in it.
To sum up, Meryl Streep gives an excellent performance as Lindy Chamberlain. Although I'm not as enthusiastic about her in this film as so many others, I can perfectly see why they fell in love with this performance. It's compelling, complex, multi-layered and very-very effective. Some may accuse Meryl of being too calculating and planned, but to me this is one of her most natural and emotional performances, she's a real force on the screen and always a thrill to hear and look at.
What do you think? The Final Conclusion comes on Friday. :)