- Willem Dafoe, undeniably one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, yet in At Eternity’s Gate, we see him lose himself in the fascinating character of Vincent van Gogh. Dafoe here delivers one of the most captivating and mesmerizing performances of the year. He finds all the intricacies for a perfect embodiment of van Gogh, as he is such a complicated character. From him being an emotionally needy loner, to an egomaniac with low self-esteem, Dafoe finds every lane of the complicated character with an assortment of success. So much success that it’s almost hard to not call this Dafoe’s crowning performance of his career so far. Both Oscar Isaac and Rupert Friend deliver performances as van Gogh’s role models, and both are great. Especially Rupert Friend though, who helps capture the brotherly tenderness between Vincent and Theo beautifully.
- The direction from Julian Schnabel here delivers a portrait of van Gogh like no other before. With this film Schnabel is interested in a difficult, mercurial man and is attentive to his hardships. Remarkably, though, his interest has a rare quality of tenderness to it, perhaps because, unlike most filmmakers who make movies about great artists, Schnabel himself is fundamentally preoccupied with art itself. Schnabel as well gives this film an entrancing visceral quality of putting so much of it in the POV (point of view) of van Gogh, with many actors, when talking to Vincent, looking directly into the camera. Which adds to the films encompassing transportive quality, as we are always with Vincent. Because any film could give you the essence of van Gogh’s story, but perhaps only this one can make you feel what it would be like to stand in the field with his brilliant mind, and watch him make magic out of scenery.
- The screenplay from Schnabel, Jean-Claude Carrière and Louise Kugelberg is a condensing one, as it skips or skims over biographical milestones. With his earlier career struggles and professional and personal disappointments often expressed indirectly and more often put into the feverish eyes and attitude of Dafoe’s performance. The screenplay captures the isolation of van Gogh brilliantly and gives the film a fly on the wall intimacy of his inner-struggles.
- The cinematography by Benoît Delhomme is tremendous. The entirety of this film is practically all shot handheld over-the-shoulder, which does give the film an interesting enchanting quality. But it’s the way Delhomme captures the slow turning madness of van Gogh that grabs the eye, as his main tool is bifocal filters. As the film progresses we see them used more and take a view in the mind of Vincent. But perspective is a huge aspect in this film, as it is in first person much of the time. The film even goes as far as having Dafoe operate the camera to really get his POV. Though it’s that transportive quality, yet again, that pulls through Delhomme’s work, as it’s the moments in the film where we explore the gorgeous landscape vistas of southern France right beside Vincent that the films elegiac title begins to bring shocks of beauty and gather waves of concentrated feeling.
- There is one scene that gets a little too on-the-nose and gets a little ham-fisted.