Pain & Glory Movie Review
From Pedro Almodóvar comes Pain & Glory, a beautifully crafted but tediously dull drama about a physically and mentally crippled man who is able to rediscover a path forward by opening up about his past. Antonio Banderas is terrific, but his performance is not enough to save the movie from its own seemingly lack of focus and disinterest in carrying the story forward in a fulfilling way.
Pain & Glory feels like Almodóvar’s most personal film—according to an interview with Banderas, the drama is “self-fiction,” a combination of autobiographical details and the acclaimed filmmaker’s dreams and desires. It’s hard to deny Almodóvar’s sincerity; the movie pulses like a beating heart—his beating heart—and each scene feels delicately drawn from deep within his soul.
Simultaneously, each scene appears carefully constructed, as you’d expect, Almodóvar applying his master craft to every detail of the production in near poetic fashion. Banderas brings his vision to life, delivering one of the best performances of his career, a quietly powerful, emotionally vulnerable turn. The supporting cast, most notably Asier Etxeandia, are equally impressive.
Unfortunately, the sum is less than the parts.
As exquisite as each scene is, Almodóvar loses sight of what matters most: his audience. The sequences that return Banderas’ Salvador Mallo to his childhood, while nice in their own right, don’t entirely land. Penelope Cruz, trapped as Salvador’s memory of his mother, is fine but rarely utilized to her capabilities; she simply exists, without much to do. These flashbacks don’t do much to establish Salvador’s later pain, either; his confrontations with his older, dying mother don’t connect to what we see further in the past. It simply isn’t clear what Almodóvar was trying to show us.
Cinematically, the bigger issue is that Pain & Glory begins to drag halfway through, and then drags some more. Almodóvar is one of the most inventive storytellers of our age, but he gets so lost in the personal nature of this story that he seemingly forgets to entertain, enthrall, or engage the audience as he winds his story toward its inevitable conclusion.
Pain & Glory is terrific on so many levels, yet it is far from a terrific film. Beautifully made and emotional in its delivery, it is nonetheless a slow, ultimately boring film that lacks the spark of Almodóvar’s other works.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.