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'After the Wedding' review: Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore glow

Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup and Julianne Moore star

Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup and Julianne Moore star in "After the Wedding." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics/David Giesbrecht

PLOT A charity worker and a wealthy businesswoman discover their lives are connected.

CAST Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup

RATED PG-13 (adult themes)

LENGTH 1:52

BOTTOM LINE A beautifully acted drama with a tantalizing mystery at its center.

In Bart Freundlich's engrossing drama "After the Wedding," you can hear Michelle Williams loud and clear, even when she isn't saying a word.

Williams plays Isabel, an idealistic woman who runs an orphanage in Calcutta. We first see her meditating with a group of children, but it's the last time we'll see this character at peace. Her daily routine is disrupted by news of a possible $2 million donation from a woman she's never met, Theresa Young, a wealthy media mogul. There's a puzzling string attached: Isabel must come to New York for the money.

Thus begins the mystery that drives "After the Wedding." Theresa, played by Julianne Moore, has apparently done extensive research on Isabel's tiny orphanage and on Isabel herself. She dangles larger and larger sums of money, each time luring Isabel further into her private life. In short order, Isabel finds herself at the wedding of Theresa's adopted daughter, Grace (Abby Quinn). There, at the family's sprawling Oyster Bay estate (a real one, borrowed from the late landscape designer Suzy Bales), Isabel spots a familiar face: Theresa's husband, Oscar (Billy Crudup).

With this cast, as you might guess, "After the Wedding" offers one pitch-perfect performance after another. Freundlich, Moore's real-life spouse, conducts his actors like a little orchestra, playing each off the other. Moore has her tycoon character down pat — imperious, entitled, vulnerable when she chooses, weaker than she seems. Crudup plies his special brand of stoic-yet-sensitive masculinity. Quinn, a newcomer with only a handful of credits, is quite good as Grace, a pampered young woman trying her best to be a grown-up.

Williams, though, is the one to watch. Her Isabel is compassionate, smart, skeptical and funny. She can say a great deal with just a well-chosen look, and you can pretty much hear the words: "What's going on here?" or "Don’t gimme that" or "Why me?" As the plot thickens and emotions grow more complex, there are times when Williams' eyes communicate whole paragraphs.

Written by Anders Thomas Jensen from Susanne Bier's 2006 Danish film, "After the Wedding" loses some of its power once the central mystery is revealed. It's the actors who pull us through to the end. 

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