It has been eight years since Julian Schnabel‘s last film, the surprisingly controversial Miral. But it’s been worth our patience, as his new Vincent Van Gogh biopic At Eternity’s Gate arrives in theaters this weekend to rapturous reviews. (The New York Times called it “a vivid, intensely affecting portrait.”)
And indeed, Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of the tormented artist is nothing short of revelatory, convincingly inhabiting Vincent as he’s shown traversing the sun-drenched landscapes of Provence that so inspired him – but also viscerally capturing his loneliness, and his tragic descent into mental illness.
Though as Dafoe’s Von Gogh puts it himself, “Sometimes they say I am mad. But a grain of madness is the best of art.”
The film also features Rupert Friend as the artist’s long-suffering brother Theo, and Oscar Isaac as his friend and fellow painter Paul Gaugin; the always great Mads Mikkelsen plays a priest – Van Gogh, remember, was a deeply devout man.
Most certainly, At Eternity’s Gate again affirms Schnabel as a director with a mastery of capturing and conveying emotional nuance. It is also surely a good time to acknowledge that Willem Dafoe is indeed one of the truly greatest actors of his generation, with a trajectory that has taken him from Platoon to The English Patient to Spider-Man to this moment, which will very likely be remembered as one of his best.