Hear Me Out: Juliette Binoche Gives The Most Important Performance In Godzilla
In my five-star review of Godzilla, I gushed over director Gareth Edwards' expansive use of storytelling, his top-notch visual effects, and his teasing reveals of its titular monster. I also touched on the performances in this monster movie, and how they hammered home the stakes of its battle of titans. But there are times when a review is just too small a stage to get into every detail of what makes a movie great. So today, I want to focus on one scene in particular that really made Godzilla outstanding. And it's not one teased in its trailers.
NOTE: Major spoilers for Godzilla are revealed below. If you have not seen the film, we highly recommend you stop reading here. Bookmark it, and return once you've taken in what's projected to be one of the biggest hits of the summer.
For his highly anticipated Godzilla reboot, Gareth Edwards pulled together an impressive international cast that included American stars like indie darling Elizabeth Olsen, Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, and Academy Award-nominee David Strathairn, English luminaries Sally Hawkins and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Japanese icon Ken Watanabe, and last, but most certainly not least, French leading lady and Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche. In Godzilla, Binoche and Cranston were paired up to play Mr. and Mrs. Brody, an American couple living in Japan and working together at a demanding nuclear power plant.
Because of the prestige and dramatic weight these two celebrated actors bring to the screen, moviegoers generally expected to see the pair play the leads and human face of Godzilla. (This is especially true of Cranston, who was a major part of the film's marketing.) Instead, Cranston and Binoche were casualties to the cruelty of the MUTO attacks. While I was sad to see Cranston leave the film in its second act, it was Binoche's death in the first act that broke my heart and bonded me to the emotional journey of this larger-than-life monster movie.
At 50 years old, Juliette Binoche has been exuding grace and casual elegance for decades on camera. In Godzilla, she plays mother/wife/engineer Sandra Brody, in that order. First she appears to soothe little Ford Brody, who is upset that his plans to surprise his dad (Cranston) on his birthday have been foiled by Joe Brody's work schedule. After seeing her boy off to school, Sandra turns to her husband, frantic over bizarre readings at the plant. She reminds him it's his birthday, mocks his forgetfulness, and kisses him with an easy enthusiasm that broadcasts their intimacy. I instantly believed Sandra and Joe as a happily married couple with their own quirks and comforts. But sadly, their shared screentime would soon be cut short.
You've seen the movie. You know how it goes down.
She's with a team investigating the plant's lower levels for problems, but an unexpected MUTO attack causes a leak that could be deadly if it gets out. Communicating through walkie talkies, Joe screams for her to run to safety before its too late! He races down to the blast doors to give her every possible second. But it's not enough.
She yells for him to close the doors, insisting they can't make it and he can't risk the city. He screams, "Don't you say that!" Yet ultimately Joe is forced to close the doors as ominous gas barrels toward him. He crumples, weeping for what he's lost, then comes the knock. Horrified, Joe looks through the thick metal door's small window, to see a traumatized member of his wife's crew banging frantically. Then Sandra shoves the poor soon-to-be dead man aside, and takes one last look at her husband.
Joe is stricken. But Sandra offers a sad smile as her eyes begin to tear up. "Take care of Ford," she shouts through the window. "Be a good father." Then, as the second layer of metal doors prepare to snap shut, closing the two off forever, she says, "We didn't make it." It's a simple line. But the way Binoche delivers it, with a shattered smile, and a laugh cracked by choked tears makes this the movie's most emotionally devastating moment. The deaths of the miners lost off camera in the cave-in in the Philippines takes on a more profound impact, when you consider that each member of their family lost them in this same blink-of-an-eye instant. Likewise, this moment sets the stage for all the loss of life that is still to come.
Through Cranston, Joe Brody becomes a compelling portrait of grief, particularly in a later scene where he laments not only losing his wife, but also having been cheated the chance to even recover a photo of her from their abandoned home. In another solid moment, he declares all this to a window, with his reflection making him seem a ghost himself. Cranston is a hell of an actor, but for me, this movie is grounded by Binoche.
She gets maybe 10 minutes of screentime in Godzilla, but Juliette Binoche makes every second of that count. Tiny gestures that read big paint a whole life for Sandra Brody in just three short scenes. And when she dies, it's a death that feels so tragic that it hammers us to the edge of our seats. There we wait for Godzilla, and yearn--whether or not we realize it--for Sandra Brody to be avenged.
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