For obvious reasons, most popular films have characters who are either youthful and attractive, or middle-aged and powerful. Few films tackle the issues of old age, or have an older person as the lead interest. Here are some recommendations of films where the film-makers were brave enough to put their trust in older actors, and achieve often startling results. Some of those cast were very famous, and just getting on a bit; others may well be unknown to most, or all of us.
Gran Torino. An obvious choice perhaps, this 2008 film stars the then 78 year old Clint Eastwood, who also directs. This film is not what you might expect. It deals with the changing face of middle America, issues of immigration, presumption, and revenge. The story is probably well-known, but has its strength in how the main character, Walt Kowalski, (a solid performance by Eastwood) is forced by circumstances, to change his outlook on life, and to re-evaluate long held prejudices and attitudes. In many ways, the much prized, and lovingly cared-for car of the title, is like Kowalski himself. He likes to keep in good condition, despite advancing years, and the attributes that once made this muscle car of the 70’s so desirable, a solid build, good shape, and all-American construction, may equally apply to the former serviceman, and Korean War veteran. There are good performances from all the cast, and the ending is devoid of the expected cliche. Well worth a look, particularly for men of a ‘certain age’. Here’s a trailer.
The Way Home. This fascinating film from Korea, made in 2002, has a 78 year old star who was not even an actress, and a child co-star who takes being obnoxious to a new level. The plot is simplicity itself. A busy mother has to work, and has no option but to take her young son to stay with her mother, for the summer holidays. The youngster is transplanted from his life in the big city, to little more than a shack in the remote Korean countryside. He behaves badly, she cares for him lovingly, almost destroying herself in the process. The story explores the changes in their relationship, during the school holiday summer break. This simplicity is what makes it so marvellous, as well as acting of an unbelievably high standard from both the crippled, mute old lady, (Eul-boon Kim) and the terribly behaved little boy (Seung-ho Yu). This film deserves a wider audience, and should be seen as film-making at a very high level. Images and performances will stay with you, as they did with me. I can only get this cheesy American trailer, but you do see the cast. Don’t judge it by this, whatever you do.
Driving Miss Daisy. In 1989, Australian director Burce Beresford made this film, based on the stage play of the same name. Jessica Tandy, then 80 years old, and sadly no longer with us, stars as Miss Daisy, alongside Morgan freeman, then 52, as her chauffeur, Hoke Colburn. Despite her resistance to having a driver hired for her by her son, she reluctantly accepts; though she resolves to make his life difficult, and behaves very badly to him at first. This gentle film is about how people adapt and mellow with age, and with its setting in the 1950’s, also has something to say about racism and prejudice in America’s deep South. Tandy plays Miss Daisy to perfection, with wicked grins, petulant behaviour, and an awareness of how her age and infirmity is impacting on her independence. All the performances, from an obviously committed cast, are enough to make you forgive the sugary feel that sometimes permeates this otherwise enchanting tale. Here is the official trailer.
Aleksandra. This Russian film stars 73 year old Galina Vishenevskaya, a famous opera singer, as the title character. Made in 2007, during the Second Chechen War, waged by the Russian government, against separatists in the Caucasus. Aleksandra is missing her grandson, Dennis, who is an army officer, serving on a remote base in this bleak, war-torn country. She resolves to visit him, despite her age and infirmities, and the logistical difficulties of travelling to a war zone. Taking the arduous train journey, she finally arrives, hot and dusty, at Dennis’s camp. He makes her as comfortable as possible, given the basic amenities, and shows her around proudly, letting her sit in his armoured vehicle, and meeting the men of his unit, mostly young, and all homesick. When he has to go on a mission, she is able to wander around freely, and visits the nearby Chechen town, to buy goods for the young men not allowed to leave the base. She views both sides of this conflict, and worries for her grandson, who she may never see again. This is an understated performance, but one of great depth. Her skill, is in showing that she could be anyone and everyone’s concerned grandmother, and it is this that is the glue that holds the whole film together. This two minute trailer will give you a taste of the film.
Harry Brown. It was inevitable, I suppose, that this would feature in these choices. Michael Caine was 76 years old when this film was made in 2009, yet has rarely given a better performance. Despite having a long career essentially playing himself, (OK, not in Zulu) he really shines in this British revenge thriller. Authentic location filming in run-down areas around London, and an excellent British cast, all work together for this film, which I defy you not to enjoy. Pushed to breaking point by the pointless murder of an old Army pal, Harry decides that it is time to get his own back, on behalf of a community terrorised by crime, and scared to walk the streets. Very violent, and dealing with drug dealers, petty criminals, and mindless thugs, the action keeps building, until the exciting climax. If you think that the premise is flawed, and that it is hard to believe that this old man can wander around, armed and dangerous, tackling criminals of all kinds, you would be wrong. It is always believable, thanks to what is undoubtedly a career-best performance from Michael Caine. Here is a very short clip, as Harry deals with a local drug dealer.
Perhaps my own advancing years are drawing me towards this theme, but I hope that all of you, whatever your age, will find something to enjoy from this selection. Unusually, I will make an additional recommendation. If you only get a chance to choose one of these films to watch, can I suggest you make that choice ‘The Way Home’. It really is that good.