Brad Pitt = B/B+.
Brad Pitt has the most difficult role to navigate in the film; the title role. As such, he has a huge responsibility to make the character believable, which I think he succeeds in. Just to give you the scope of how difficult this must have been: He has to physically communicate the outer-age of his character while keeping his inner life suitably young. And even though there's no big moments for him, he provides a very plush wall for the other actors to bounce off of. I can't really find any real flaws with his performance, I must say that he is especially great in the last act where he may be overshadowed by his co-star, and I can't blame the monotony of the middle part of the film on him. Based on my limited viewing of the contenders, an Oscar nomination would not be amiss for him here.
Cate Blanchett = A.
Let me say now that I am a fan of Cate Blanchett, but until this performance I wouldn't say that I was a huge fan, I felt she was amazing in Elizabeth, and has had moments of brilliance since but I would never call her a particularly amazing actress. But, this performance, while not being my favourite of hers, Elizabeth is still that milestone and she will never equal it, probably because she's a more experienced actress, it is the most unique performance that she's done so far. And, I'm horrified to see that she's being passed over for Oscar consideration. For the last hour, Blanchett carries the film and creates most of the heartbreak and emotional gravitas. But, even before that she is a captivating screen presence, and convinces with a character that's almost underwritten. There's just so much I can write about this performance, and that last hour may be one of her finest as an actress; I was just consistently amazed at how she lived in the character, physically, emotionally and with her voice. I must give special attention to her physical performance; her dancing is incredible and her voice; surely one of the best and most emotive in the business today, she is her generation's Lauren Bacall. Definitely a performance that will one day become legendary, and without seeing many of the contenders in this category, my favourite of the year.
Taraji P. Henson = B/B+.
Henson dazzles in her opening scenes and continues in the film with an aura of likeability. I place the blame on the writing here, she sort of plays like a stereotyped character, but she adds soul and reality to even that stereotype, and ably scales that obstacle. I blame the screenplay once more for not giving her a real exit scene, which would have completed her character arc quite nicely. Perhaps there was some reason for that, but I honestly can't see it. Henson has a difficult role to manage in that she's asked to provide very easy laughs and drama only some of the time, the movie seems like it doesn't know what to do with her. Still, I give Henson a lot of credit for pulling a character together from only occasional scenes, which she anchors with a warm homeliness and just a little dash of trademark sass. The performance seems slight for a nomination, but it's not exactly something I would object to.
Tilda Swinton = B+
This role seems a little bit slight to place here, because many actors had larger roles than she, but she's significant enough to the plot for me to review the performance. And, it's Tilda Swinton; she's the most talented actress of her generation. Her performance in the movie is one of the rare few that gets an extended amount of time all at once. Her performance is fantastically subtle and nuanced, she conveys a great deal of amount of her character without being particularly forthright, she hints at the small inner tragedies and insecurities delightfully. As with any Swinton performance, there is beauty in the details; how she packs her cigarettes into her jacket when she first meets Benjamin, the small tea conversation, it's all in service of the character. But the biggest compliment I can give this performance is that it makes you wish that you could watch all of her and Benjamin's conversation rather than just the montage, even in this sometimes overlong movie. (For the record, there is not a five-second scene late in the game where Swinton delivers the worst line-reading of her career. There simply is not.)
Other Notable Performances:
Julia Ormond - Makes the flash-forwards worthwhile. You can see flashes of her character outisde of the film. Once more; makes you wish it was just slightly about her.
Jared Harris - Vivid, if not particularly deep. Almost manages to make the whole seafaring part of the movie enjoyable.
Overall Film Grade: A-/B+