Living (Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood, Alex Sharp) – Glance through Bill Nighy’s filmography and you will quickly notice the tremendous range and breadth of his acting career. In America, he may best be known for playing aging rock star Billy Mack in Love Actually but that would be truly unfortunate. He has been one of Britain’s greatest character actors for four decades.
Living, the remake of the 1952 film Ikiru, is a deeply moving film about a 1950s-era civil servant whose stolid demeanor and empty life change when he receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. His sudden desire to live what life has left for him and to make a difference before he goes makes for a stunning character study.
Nighy plays Mr. Williams, the staid Public Works manager, whose department’s job is mostly to push paper and to consider public projects while supervising a staff of mostly boring bureaucrats who look alike, commute together, and work at a snail’s pace. Williams is highly respected, very prim, and by the book. When he finds out he is gravely ill, he doesn’t tell his son with whom he lives but, instead, heads to the beach where he meets a gadfly who takes him on a booze-filled binge. One day, he runs into one of his former employees, a young woman (Aimee Lou Wood), who has taken an entry-level management job elsewhere. Miss Harris is full of life, which is exactly what Mr. Williams needs and appreciates. Their relationship, purely platonic, opens Williams up. He confides in her; she enjoys his surprising hidden personality.
The third act of the film is touching, heart-rending, satisfying, and hopeful. Nighy’s performance is stunningly reserved yet powerful. He manages to subtly reveal Williams’ transformation through barely perceptible facial expressions and body language that are tightly contained within the confines of this terribly reserved character. That is also a tribute to the tight screenplay, which earned Kazuo Ishiguro an Oscar nomination (the 1952 movie was written by famed Writer/Director Akira Kurosawa).
Most notably, Nighy received a very well-deserved Best Actor Oscar nod for this performance in a year where no real superstars were among the nominated. Most people will miss this film and this exceptional performance, and that would be too bad.