American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
It is the casting that intrigues you. A couple whose marriage has stalled seeks "intensive counseling." Kay is played by Meryl Streep. No surprise there. Arnold is played by Tommy Lee Jones, the last name that would occur to most casting directors. The character is vulnerable, touchy and shy. He lacks confidence. He isn't interested in getting in touch with his feelings. He isn't even very interested in having any.
"Hope Springs" isn't a great film and doesn't take any chances, except with this casting decision. The reason to see it is for Jones. This man who can stride fearlessly through roles requiring strong, determined men, this actor who can seem in complete control, finds a character here who seems unlike any other he has played and plays it bravely.
I've interviewed him a few times, once at the American Pavilion in Cannes. Sitting next to him on the stage, I realized he did not even slightly enjoy exposing himself in that way. He was intensely uncomfortable with discussing "approaches," and "decisions" and "acting." He had nothing to say about "motivations" — his character's, his director's or his own. He was at Cannes to promote a movie, and he would do that because it was his job, but it was not an easy fit. It may be the same sense of privacy that informs his best roles. He never asks the audience for anything. We can take him or leave him. He is a rare actor who is not trying to please us.
Now look at him in "Hope Springs." He plays a moderately successful executive, a creature of habit, whose marriage has frozen into a routine. His wife is sweet, non-demanding and wistful, played by Streep as a woman who wonders what happened to the man she married. Every day starts with his nose buried in the newspaper and ends with him asleep in front of the Golf Channel. They haven't slept in the same room for years.