Sometimes, Always, Never, staring Bill Nighy and Sam Riley, is one of those thoughtful, intelligent movie that are becoming harder and harder to find. Unlike so many movies these days which make you feel like your emotions have been manipulated in order to pull a reaction from you, it believes its audience has a brain and genuine feelings.
Nighy and Riley are Alan and Peter, father and son, who have a difficult relationship. The strain on appears to date back to when another son, Michael stormed out of the house during a game of Scrabble when he was 17 and hasn’t been seen since. Years later the two still hold out hope of finding him.
When we meet the two men they are setting out to see if a body could possibly be their long lost son/brother. This is the beginning of an odyssey, physical and emotional, which will either help them reconnect or alienate them from each other permanently.
While this might sound like the sort of movie which is all talk and short on visuals the director and art department have done a wonderful job of creating a type of pathetic fallacy. Scenes are shot in such a way that they reflect atmosphere and a characters’s emotional state.
In the opening scene of the movie we see Nighy’s character standing looking out to sea among a group of life size silhouetted statues. We are left with the impression of a man who has separated himself from everyone and everything. When we see him interacting with people he’s all affable politeness, but there’s something missing. He seems most happy when he’s playing online Scrabble.
Alan clutches at Scrabble like a lifeline because he has convinced himself that his frequent online opponent is his lost son. As long as he’s playing he is maintaining a connection to the piece of his life he chased away. Unfortunately being lost in this hope means he’s been cutting himself off from the family he does have – his son, daughter-in-law and grandson.
Peter seems to suffer from the same problem as his dad. His relationship with his own son is precarious at best as the boy hides in his room playing video games and barely talks to either of his parents. The grief of losing a brother and a son has left deep emotional scars on both men and made them more alike than they realize.
Nighy gives one of the best performances of his career in this production. Somehow he manages to maintain the veneer his character has created to convince the world everything is fine while showing the sorrow and hope that hides beneath its surface. There’s no big melt down, things just seep out through cracks and fissures which allow us to see what he truly feels.
In fact all the performances, from the husband and wife they meet who have also come to look at the body who may or may not be somebody’s son, to Peter’s wife and son, are quite wonderful. Seeing the family trying to go about their business we witness examples of how Alan and Peter’s trauma has cast a pall over the entire family.
While the title of the movie is explained by Alan, who is a tailor, as to how you button your suit jacket; sometimes you do up the bottom button, you always do the middle, and never the top; it also reflects the lack of certainty which permeates the film.
Sometimes, Always, Never is a beautiful and quiet film featuring top notch performances from both Bill Nighy and Sam Riley. It will probably fly under most people’s radars, but its well worth searching out. It had its virtual cinema release in June and will be released on digital platforms for on demand viewing July 10 2020.