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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 30, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 05
Stewart's brilliance makes Match worth celebrating
Arts & Entertainment
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Stewart's brilliance makes Match worth celebrating

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MATCH
Now playing


Patrick Stewart has never been nominated for an Academy Award. Heck, he's never been part of the conversation. Granted, considering the motion picture veteran's most notable on-screen roles can be found in the likes of X-Men, Star Trek: First Contact, Conspiracy Theory, Lifeforce, Dune and Excalibur this should hardly be surprising, the majority of his most notable performances coming either on the stage or via television. Yet, make no mistake, the former Captain of the Starship Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, and the modern incarnation of mutant leader Prof. Charles Xavier is one of our greatest living actors, and it was only a matter of time before someone finally gave him a cinematic role worthy of his talent.

Granted, seeing that his latest film, the gloriously entertaining three-person character study Match, was originally a theatrical production and is directed and adapted by the show's playwright Stephen Belber (Management, The Laramie Project) it isn't like Stewart is going all that far out of his typical comfort zone. Even though he wasn't part of the acclaimed Broadway production (Frank Langella played the character originally), the theatricality of the piece and the intimate structure of the narrative are both things the actor has responded to time and time again throughout his career, and much like his celebrated Shakespearean productions on the London stage his inhabiting of the central figure here is as magnetic as it is multifaceted.

Stewart is Manhattanite Tobi Powell, a towering figure in the world of ballet, applauded as a teacher and a mentor to rising young students the world over. He is approached by a couple from Seattle, Lisa (Carla Gugino) and Mike Davis (Matthew Lillard), ostensibly there to interview him about his early days as a dancer during the 1960s. At first the maestro is more than happy to indulge the pair, spinning yarns of days long gone that are as eccentric as they are colorful. But as the hours drag on and the venue morphs from a New York diner to Tobi's own home it's soon clear there's more going on beneath the surface than initially surmised, the secrets the dance impresario has been concealing ones that connect them all in ways none are ready to face let alone talk about.

The story's theatrical roots are apparent from the start, and even though Belber attempts to open things up, he's never truly able to escape them. More often than not there's little about this presentation that feels cinematic, and thus unlike similar, equally recent endeavors by the likes of Roman Polanski (Carnage, Venus in Fur) or John Wells (August: Osage County) this film adaptation never entirely comes to life. It doesn't help that, as good as both are, neither Gugino or Lillard are fully able to connect with their respective characters and as such the climactic revelations don't strike with quite the impact I admittedly expected them to as I started to put the pieces of the puzzle together for myself.

But Stewart? Stewart is astonishing, burning through the screen with passion and power, elevating the film to glorious heights keeping things fascinating and enthralling throughout no matter how big any one misstep might initially appear. Tobi is a flamboyantly charismatic man of mystery, hiding truth with lies and using subterfuge to augment fact, each coexisting with the others allowing secrets to hide right out in the open where they'll hopefully continue to avoid being discovered. It's a magnetic, intoxicating turn filled with insight and emotion, the revered teacher still not above becoming the perplexed pupil as history and circumstance force him to reconsider choices long ago dealt with, if still lingering in the psyche, as if they were a perpetual nightmare impossible to forget.

Considering the film's January release, it's beyond doubtful anyone will be talking about Stewart's turn come December. It will not put him in the Oscar discussion even though it undeniably should. Few will remember he gave one of the year's finest performances. But that doesn't make him any less magnificent, and as such he manages to make Match one of 2015's first must-see releases, fans of the actor owing it to themselves to see this master at something quite near the absolute top of his justifiably illustrious game.

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