Morgan Freeman & Diane Keaton star in Ruth and Alex (called 5 Flights Up in the States) based on the book Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment. Martin Carr takes a look…
Ruth and Alex is proof that the presence of talent is no guarantee of success. On paper this should be a mature drama. Oscar winners, character actors and a distinguished director are all present and correct. Coupled with a script offering meaty dialogue moments and poignant flashback segues that should equal box office. However there is something missing.
Having constructed one of Newton’s Cradles, director Richard Loncraine should know about perpetual motion. Some friction or force needs to exist between opposing objects to keep propulsion constant. Meaning from a cinematic perspective, that this friction or force needs to manifest itself emotionally. If your script has no sense of conflict or resolution then you lack drama. Unfortunately this is exactly the problem with Ruth and Alex.
Taken from a novel by Jill Ciment, we get skilled storytelling delicately crafted by a seasoned director. However with Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton in attendance, there needs to be more trauma than a dog with back issues and bomb threats. As Robin Williams once said you can’t make butter with a toothpick. With films such as Ian McKellen’s Richard III, Micheal Palin in The Missionary and Paul Bettany rom-com Wimbledon under his belt, Loncraine is clearly no slouch. Which is why Ruth and Alex makes even less sense.
There is good chemistry between Keaton and Freeman as they spark off each other in dialogue scenes. While Corey Jackson and Claire van der Boom as younger versions, add emotional depth in carefully judged flashbacks. Elsewhere Cynthia Nixon, still best known for Sex and the City, makes a valuable contribution as the niece. If anything the moments Nixon, Keaton and Freeman share redeem this film. While those flashbacks lift Ruth and Alex beyond the mundane and inject some much needed pathos.
Ultimately however the film lacks that all important edge to give it traction. A fudged sub plot about suicide bombers detracts from the performances and adds nothing to proceedings. Freeman and Keaton do the best they can with the material, but even Oscar winners have their limits. My feeling is that there is more in the book than ever made it through this production process. Ruth and Alex is therefore considerably less than the sum of its parts. As I said at the outset, there is only so much drama to be gleaned from canine incapacitation and New York real estate.
Apologises if this sounds like I am selling Freeman, Keaton and Loncraine short, that was never my intention. Unfortunately what Ruth and Alex represents to me is a wasted opportunity, hampered by a weak central premise and nominal pay off. Not unenjoyable by any means, just disappointing considering those involved.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Written by: Charlie Peters
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton
Country: USA / IMDB
Ruth and Alex is released in the UK on DVD September 18.