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Review: Andrew Haigh's 'All of Us Strangers' is a haunting meditation on connection

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Two TV heartthrobs, Andrew Scott, the hot priest from "Fleabag," and Paul Mescal, who plays the conflicted romantic Connell in "Normal People," star in a new movie called "All Of Us Strangers." Critic Bob Mondello says the word that best describes the film for several reasons is haunting.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Adam is a screenwriter who lives in a massive, mostly vacant apartment building in London. He's working on a script about his parents, who died when he was 11 - if, by working, you mean watching TV and occasionally going outside when the fire alarm sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRE ALARM SOUNDING)

MONDELLO: One night when he does and looks up, there's only one other lit apartment in the whole building with a guy who stayed put. After the all-clear, there's a knock at Adam's door.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

PAUL MESCAL: (As Harry) Hello. I saw you looking at me from the street. I'm Harry. You drink?

MONDELLO: He motions to the bottle in his hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

MESCAL: (As Harry) It's meant to be the best in the world, but I couldn't tell you why, so...

ANDREW SCOTT: (As Adam) No, thanks.

MESCAL: (As Harry) Yeah, OK. OK, how about I come in anyway? - if not for a drink, then for whatever else you might want.

MONDELLO: Adam declines, but the ache of loneliness lingers. The next day, to research his script, he takes a train out to the suburb where he grew up and finds his old house and, as night falls, has an encounter with another man - only, this time, Adam's the one who's hoping to be invited in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

JAMIE BELL: (As Dad) She's going to be over the moon to see you.

MONDELLO: And he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

BELL: (As Dad) Guess who I found loitering in the park?

CLAIRE FOY: (As Mum) Is it him?

BELL: (As Dad) Oh, yeah. It's definitely him. Look in his eyes.

FOY: (As Mum) Yes, it is you.

MONDELLO: It's his parents, who've not aged a day.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

SCOTT: (As Adam) Hi.

FOY: (As Mum) Hi. Don't just stand there. Get yourself inside.

MONDELLO: A ghost story of sorts about connection where it's least expected and after hope is all but gone - speaking of which, Adam returns to his apartment and meets up with Harry again, this time letting things go where they will...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

MESCAL: (As Harry) I'm assuming you're not with anyone - never see you with anyone.

MONDELLO: ...Physical intimacy leading to personal intimacy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

MESCAL: (As Harry) Is this your mum and dad?

SCOTT: (As Adam) Yeah. They died just before I was 12. I'm trying to write about them at the moment.

MESCAL: (As Harry) How's it going?

SCOTT: (As Adam) Strangely.

MONDELLO: You might say that. Filmmaker Andrew Haigh has adapted a Japanese novel called "Strangers" in ways that let him explore family and distance in a personal way. How personal? The house Andrew visits when he sees his parents in the movie is the house the filmmaker grew up in.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

BELL: (As Dad) And I would hear you crying in your room after school. Did the boys bully you then?

MONDELLO: Haigh is telling a generous tale of injuries done glancingly and without intent - of parents being offered a second chance in their children's memory...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

BELL: (As Dad, crying) Sorry I never came in your room when you were crying.

SCOTT: (As Adam) Dad. Dad, I get it. It was so long - (crying) it was so long ago.

MONDELLO: ...And of comfort offered by those damaged children to each other in the present.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL OF US STRANGERS")

MESCAL: (As Harry) I'm really sorry.

SCOTT: (As Adam) It was a long time ago.

MESCAL: (As Harry) I don't think that matters.

MONDELLO: Andrew Scott's tightly wound Adam, Paul Mescal's chill, but also wounded Harry, haunted by memories and self-doubt - two strangers finding comfort in each other as they struggle to reconcile the men they've become with the expectations they're still trying to set aside - the disconnect that makes all of us strangers to our pasts and that makes Andrew Haigh's "All Of Us Strangers" such a haunting meditation on how we can connect.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE POWER OF LOVE")

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD: (Singing) The power of love...

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE POWER OF LOVE")

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD: (Singing) ...A force from above, cleaning my soul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.