Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA/United Kingdom, 2006. Trigger Street Independent, Little Bird Productions, Burnside Entertainment, Chicagofilms. Screenplay by Hugh Costello. Cinematography by Mauricio Rubinstein. Music by Alex Wurman. Production Design by Franckie Diago. Costume Design by Joseph G. Aulisi. Film Editing by Andy Keir.
Doris Duke grew up as the “richest little girl in the world” after her tobacco magnate father died at 68 and left her his entire $100 million dollar fortune (by the time of her death in 1993 she had expanded it to a billion). This film concentrates on her later years, when a twice divorced, aging Duke (Susan Sarandon) hires ex-alcoholic, gay Irish butler Lafferty (Ralph Fiennes) to oversee her household.
A woman who was always wary of people close to her, not to mention merciless with her hired help, Duke finds herself suddenly taking Lafferty into her confidence and the two become friends to the point of eschewing any manner of accustomed master-servant propriety between them. By the time she reaches her twilight years and has suffered a stroke, Lafferty goes for another bout with the bottle before finding his way back to take care of his mistress in her hour of greatest need.
Bob Balaban’s incredibly charismatic film is mostly conjecture: one doesn’t know what really went on behind closed doors and the film is mainly inspired by the known fact that the heiress left her butler a huge settlement in her will and, most poignantly, made him executor to her estate. The proceedings as they occur, however, are so free from exploitation or soap opera that they make for a very convincing argument. Sarandon hasn’t given so exciting a performance since Dead Man Walking, all hard edges and snappy judgements but with a sassy affection underneath, while Fiennes completely sublimates his handsome manner and intelligent charm into the character of this incredibly strange, undetectable and off-putting human being.
Look for a small appearance by the late, great Dominick Dunne.