THE STORY – Mystery surrounds the death of famed painter Vincent van Gogh in 1890 France.
THE CAST – Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson & Aidan Turner
THE TEAM – Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman (Directors/Writers) & Jacek Dehnel (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
By Daniel H.
In one of the most interestingly animated films in quite some time, “Loving Vincent” paints a beautiful and complex picture of tortured artist Vincent Van Gogh. Every frame in the film is an individual oil painting replicating the unique styles of Van Gogh’s work. It’s a stunning achievement that boggles the mind, but the final result is beautiful.
“Loving Vincent” begins a year after the sudden death of Van Gogh. Though he was well known to be a tortured artist, the death took many of those who knew him by surprise. The official word is that Vincent shot himself, but some aren’t fully convinced that’s the whole truth. One of these unconvinced friends is Postman Joseph Roulin, played by Chris O’Dowd. He had developed a friendship with Vincent by delivering his many, many letters. He has one final letter that he never got to deliver: a letter from the late Vincent to his brother Theo.
Joseph enlists his son, Armand (Douglas Booth), with delivering this letter to Theo. Armand is reluctant to take the letter, as he actually disliked the effect that Vincent’s relationship with his father had on their standing in the community. They were mocked and scorned for being friends with the crazy artist who cut off his ear and delivered it to a whore. Can’t say that’s too surprising.
Nevertheless, Armand sets off to do his father’s bidding. He quickly begins to realize that the story surrounding Vincent’s death is filled with more questions than answers. The film soon takes a wise turn, as Armand becomes determined to solve the mystery of Vincent’s untimely end. As he begins to investigate Vincent’s death, he begins to discover more about Vincent’s life. This framing device makes for a somewhat enlightening insight into the artist.
While in the present day, following Armand on his search, the film is bright and colorful and resembles the artistic style that we’re familiar with from Van Gogh: thick brush strokes, expressive and stylized visuals. It also switches to flashbacks in a completely different style: black and white, more realistic. These visuals carry this film and never get old. You truly feel immersed into the world of Van Gogh’s art.
Unfortunately, the film never feels like it delves as deep into the mind of Vincent the man as it could have been. We get an idea of what led to his death, but don’t truly get to understand the man, or what made him such a spectacular artist. Why did he paint? What inspired him? What did Vincent long to accomplish with his work? We’re given a quote from Vincent himself at the end of the film that seeks to answer some of the questions, but the plot of the film stays mostly surface level.
That’s not to say “Loving Vincent” is uninteresting. As Armand seeks to find what happened to Vincent, he meets a great many of people who had interactions with him in his final weeks. Each of these interactions features characters inspired by Vincent’s work. Thus, not all of the characters are real people. Still, some of these characters are memorable, especially Eleanor Tomlinson’s Adeline Ravoux, the daughter of an innkeeper, and one of the last people to see Vincent alive. Tomlinson’s performance, even animated as it was, stood out in the movie. Her perspective enlightens Armand, fueling his pursuit of the truth.
There are so many of these interactions, yet so few true revelations about what happened to Vincent, that the film often feels that it moves slowly. Even though the film is only an hour and 34 minutes, it feels long. This is an interesting take on a biopic, and certainly a unique framing device, but the mystery doesn’t feel substantial enough to carry an entire feature film. Spending more time with Vincent may have resulted in greater revelations into the man we’re there to see.
Despite a slightly weak story, the world and the animation are so well executed that you can’t help but watch in awe. This isn’t an animated film for children. It’s an awesome ode to an artistic genius. The style honors Van Gogh’s art in a way that a traditional film couldn’t have done. I just wish it had given us a better picture of the man behind the art.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The art takes center stage here, creating beautiful imagery inspired by Van Gogh’s style.
THE BAD – The story isn’t quite as engrossing as the animation style.