A meticulously crafted tale

Superb acting carries this love story

Labour Day (12A)

With echoes of everything from Shane to The Bridges of Madison County, this tale of the unique relationship between a convicted killer and a mother and son manages to straddle two different genres without committing itself to either.

Is it a love story? If so there’s too much tension for us ever to relax into this. Is it a thriller? Not really because the ponderous atmosphere is always undercut by poignance.

Wearing an expression of almost constant apprehension, Kate Winslet is supreme as a woman who suffers panic attacks in the aftermath of her husband’s desertion.

Her son (Gattlin Griffith) is on the cusp of adolescence and has to deal not only with the absence of a father but also his burgeoning sexuality – and a relationship with Winslet that at times seems to border on the oedipal.

When the wounded Josh Brolin insinuates himself into their lives after breaking out of prison they accept him guardedly. When he reveals himself to be more Gordon Ramsay than John Dillinger the stage is set for a new family unit.

Many reviewers found these scenes mawkish and hard to swallow. I didn’t because of the superb acting of Winslet and Griffith, both of whom convey the convoluted parabolas of their emotions brilliantly by their expressions.

Brolin, however, remains sturdily bovine. His performance is the only weak link in the film and the one that prevents it from reaching the emotive heights of the aforementioned Madison County.

There are also some pragmatic incongruities. Why does he not stay upstairs to avoid detection instead of wandering round a house that seems to have open access, usually without even bothering to draw the curtains?

As the threesome plan a new life for themselves they display about as much efficiency in organising this as the frequently namechecked Bonnie and Clyde.

Apart from Brolin’s laxity, Winslet shakes like a leaf at the onset of even the mildest suspicion while Griffith seems determined to blurt out about his ‘new’ father to everyone from his former one to his precocious school buddy (Maika Monroe).

The film is meticulously crafted. An idyll seen through Griffith’s eyes, it always hints at more than it delivers, be that in the recurring images of Brolin’s past or the gentle touches of everyday life.

It invites us to re-evaluate what it means to be abandoned, what it means to be a convict, what it means to try and build a new life against near-insuperable odds.

 Go see.

**** Excellent