Stamp and Redgrave shine in 'Unfinished Song'

By Josh Terry

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, July 26 2013 8:49 p.m. MDT

Vanessa Redgrave stars in "Unfinished Song."

The Weinstein Company

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This summer, millions of people have been flocking to theaters to see the new Superman (Henry Cavill) do battle with the new General Zod (Michael Shannon). But the old General Zod has been busy on the big screen as well.

Terence Stamp's character in "Unfinished Song" doesn't wear a black vinyl disco suit, and he doesn't have super powers. He doesn't even have a beard anymore. But the original Zod still knows a thing or two about acting, and he proves it in this film.

"Unfinished Song" tells the story of an aging couple in Britain dealing with the all-too-familiar ravages of cancer. Stamp plays Arthur, a coarse and distant man who nevertheless cares deeply for his suffering wife, Marion, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Cancer and old age have taken a heavy toll on Marion, but she still insists on living life to the fullest, throwing herself into a choir group led by a young, ambitious upstart named Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton). Arthur isn't crazy about his wife's determination, preferring to grumble outside and smoke cigarettes during her practices.

It doesn't help that Arthur's relationship with the couple's only son is also strained. James (Christopher Eccleston) has issues of his own, dealing with the fallout of a divorce and joint custody of his daughter.

When Marion's health takes a turn for the worse, all these conflicted relationships are brought to the forefront, and Arthur is forced to decide whether to embrace life himself or continue to regress into his protective shell. As you might imagine, embracing life involves participation with Elizabeth's choir group. "Unfinished Song" is not really concerned with plot twists, and halfway through the movie it's pretty obvious where things are ultimately headed. But the strength of a film like this doesn't lie in surprises or sudden turns; its strength lies in its relatability and the questions it forces you to ask yourself during and after the viewing.

Given its subject matter, "Unfinished Song" isn't exactly a joyride, but it does plenty to liven things up along the way. Arthur's resistance to the choir group is largely based in its unconventional set list, which features pensioner performances of undignified rock jams like the B-52's "Love Shack" or Motorhead's "The Ace of Spades." One major theme in "Unfinished Song" is the idea of stepping out of your comfort zone, and it's easy to understand Arthur's hesitation.

"Unfinished Song" is a sweet story, with excellent writing and well-developed characters. But the majority of its charm comes from watching its cast in action. Redgrave is almost unrecognizable, having chopped off her signature locks, and is convincing as a dignified woman trying to face down her mortality on her own terms. And Stamp's signature stiffness is the perfect template for a character beginning to crack at the seams.

There are plenty of movies for the kids this summer. Take them to see "Man of Steel" on a Saturday afternoon, but save the original Zod for date night.

"Unfinished Song" is rated PG-13 for some profanity and mild sexual discussion (basically because the choir performs Salt 'n Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex").

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on the "KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.

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