In 1941 in Branagan, Michigan, the beautiful and spirited Ethel Ann Roberts captures the hearts of three friends, Teddy Gordon, Jack Etty and Chuck Harris all young airmen. But Ethel Ann only has eyes for Teddy, a country boy with an open face and a dazzling smile. Their romance is full of passion and dreams for the future until the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Brangnan's boys are called for war. After a secret wedding, Teddy leaves with Ethel's ring, her promise of eternal love- and a pact with Chuck that he will take care of Ethel if Teddy doesn't make it back.
Lord Richard Attenborough can hardly be considered a prolific director. In the span of his 30 year career, he has only made 12 films (including this one) and Closing the Ring is his first after 8 years. Nevertheless, the lull has certainly not dulled his directing senses. Indeed, he infuses this wartime love story with warmth and some mature insight, and it is to his credit that at no time does this descend into mush.
Spanning half a century, the story unfolds in two parallel arcs. The first takes place during World War II in America where three young soldiers, Chuck, Teddy and Jack, fall in love with a beautiful girl Ethel Ann (played here Mischa Barton). Unfortunately, Ethel Ann loves only Teddy and the two of them get married secretly (hence the ring). But when Teddy dies in the war, she officially marries Chuck.
The second happens 50 years later when Chuck passes away and a much older Ethel Ann (now played by Shirley MacLaine) appears strangely detached. The process of healing brings Jack back into Ethel Ann’s life and sets off a chain of events that will reveal old wounds not healed by the passage of time.
If this rumination on love, life and death sounds like a Hallmark-esque movie to you, you’re probably right. But what it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for it with its solid direction, engaging performances and good old fashioned storytelling.
Quite effortlessly, director Richard Attenborough weaves the two interlocking stories together. A scene of young Ethel Ann standing in a room pledging her love to Teddy fades nicely into old Ethel Ann in the same room with her eyes closed reminiscing that tender moment from long ago. It is these and other such well-executed flourishes that demonstrate Richard Attenborough’s sure hand at work here.
The cast of veterans also give finely polished performances in this movie. As the lovelorn Ethel Ann, Shirley MacLaine lends her character an air of melancholy that is at once intimate and heartbreaking. Christopher Plummer also gives a dignified turn as the unrequited lover Jack who stands by Ethel Ann through her mourning for his best friend and her true love Chuck. Not forgetting Brenda Ficker as a feisty grandmother who unabasedly recalls her philandering ways with the three boys in Ireland during the time of the war.
Credit must also go to scripter Peter Woodward who manages to balance the two stories nicely against each other. His use of a fractured narrative injects a sense of mystery and intrigue for the viewer. Thankfully, it all comes together like a perfect circle at the end.
Of course, the movie is no pot-boiler and the more impatient viewer will probably find himself a little fidgety as the story unfolds at its own pace. Still, it’s a rewarding journey and one that you will find worthwhile if you give it time to work its charm on you.
This Code 3 DVD contains no bonus features.
Visuals are clean and good. Unfortunately, the audio is especially unremarkable and some of the dialogue can be rather indistinct. As this is only presented in Dolby 2.0, don’t expect the battle scenes to be very much rousing.
Review by Gabriel Chong