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The Greatest

An Onslaught of Sorrow

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

The greatest joy one encounters in life is arguably falling in love. The greatest loss one can suffer is arguably the death of a child. he Greatest manages to give you both in its opening minutes. Before fifteen minutes of the film have elapsed, you’re nearly emotionally exhausted. Yet as is the case in life, you have little choice but to move forward the best way you know how.

The violent death of their son, Bennett (Aaron Johnson), in a car crash leaves Allen and Grace Brewer (played by Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon) devastated and distraught. Allen does his level best to be strong, keep his grief bottled up, and push forward. Grace responds in a markedly different way; obsessing and fixating on minutiae surrounding the final minutes of her son’s life. Their younger son, Sean (Miles Robbins), is seemingly lost in the grief-stricken shuffle. The stench of grief is pungent and palpable in the Brewer household.

The surprising arrival of Bennett’s lover, Rose (Carey Mulligan), on the Brewer doorstep introduces some interesting and perhaps welcoming changes. It turns out Allen and Grace will soon be grandparents as Rose is carrying Bennett’s child. Rose takes up residence in the Brewer home and tries vainly to learn more about her first love. What distance there was between Allen and Grace becomes a veritable chasm as Allen largely embraces Rose (and his soon to be grandchild) and Grace all but eschews her while dealing with her own grief.

The intensely different ways of handling grief of this magnitude are handled ably by both Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon. Allen suffers from a case of severe emotional constipation. His brave face is a charade and every step he takes feels heavy and laborious. Brosnan who has a gift for playing charmers manages to bring gravity to this performance, and it’s convincing most of the time. On contrast, Grace’s emotions are all over the place and are manifest in everything she does. Sarandon brings a threadbare quality to Grace that makes you believe she’s one false step from losing it completely.

Debut writer/director Shana Feste does a solid job handling the subject matter covered in The Greatest, but the film feels a bit overwrought and saccharine at times. Given that the thrust of the film is really how Allen, Grace, Sean, and Rose respond to and handle the grief associated with Bennett’s death, some of this is not surprising, but there are moments that are eerily reminiscent of a Lifetime made-for-television movie that covers similar subject matter.

The Greatest also suffers from marked transparency and predictability. There are no real surprises with this film and thusly, you’re not really challenged in any way, shape, or form in determining how things will play out. The Greatest is better than your average Lifetime made for television movie, but not by much. If Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon were not on board, we likely wouldn’t be seeing this film on the big screen.