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By Scott Knopf | January 31, 2009

Shana Feste was working as a nanny when she received the news that Pierce Brosnan was interested in starring in her debut feature “The Greatest.” She quickly flew out to Hawaii to meet with him and then a few days later, news arrived that Susan Sarandon was interested as well. The first-time director landed James Bond and Louise!

The lead role went to Carey Mulligan (An Education), a young up-and-coming actress whose name will be on everyone’s lips soon enough. It was the quality of her script that landed such an A-list cast. She penned the script and shopped around until landing at Barbarian Films .Together, the team went to work on a heavy film about a grieving family and the stranger that enters their life under unusual circumstances.

When the Brewer family loses their teenage son, Bennett, each member begins to mourn in their own way. Brosnan plays Allen Brewer, the father who remains calm in an attempt to hold his family together. Sarandon plays Grace Brewer, the mother who obsesses over her baby’s last seventeen minutes of life. Bennett’s younger brother Ryan, played by Johnny Simmons puts on a strong front like his father and attends group therapy meetings to meet girls. “The Greatest” explores just why dealing with how other people grieve can be as difficult as grieving yourself. In the vein of “In the Bedroom” (2000) and “Moonlight Mile” (2001), Feste’s film offers a unique perspective on the subject of sorrow.

Soon after Bennett’s death, his girlfriend Rose shows up at the Brewer’s front door in need of a place to stay—until she has the baby. Pregnant and alone, Rose, who only briefly dated Bennett, moves in with his mourning family. She tries earnestly to learn more about the now-deceased dad of her yet-to-be-born baby. Each family member reacts to her presence differently and instead of becoming the glue that holds them together, it becomes increasing clear that she might be pushing the Brewers towards separation.

“The Greatest” is a solid film containing numerous performances worth mention. But while it comes as no surprise that Sarandon and Brosnan deliver the goods, Mulligan holds her own alongside the pros. She captures the innocence of a young woman in a desperate situation. Rose is a child trying her hardest to be an adult. The film’s most impressive performance comes from the actor whose character spends most of the film in a coma. That’s not a knock at the rest of the performers, it’s what Michael Shannon does when he wakes up that’s so extraordinary.

Playing the man responsible for Bennett Brewer’s death, Shannon has the honor of portraying the film’s most complex character. He acts his heart out during a scene where Grace squeezes every last detail about her son’s last moments from his memory. A number of great performances added to a moving script and filmed with beautiful cinematography have resulted in an outstanding film. Feste’s project shows that having the right pieces makes fitting them all together a whole lot easier.

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