Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Kelly Macdonald in Puzzle
"As with a jigsaw puzzle, the overall picture may look familiar, but there's a real sense that craftsmanship has gone in to making sure each of the pieces fit satisfyingly together." | Photo: Chris Norr

Marc Turtletaub's English-language adaptation of Natalia Smirnoff's The Puzzle - written by Oren Moverman - tells the story of under-appreciated mum Agnes (Kelly Macdonald), whose life revolves around her husband Louie (David Denman) and her two sons Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams), who are on the brink of flying the nest. When Agnes receives a jigsaw for her birthday it opens a surprising new avenue in her life that leads her to meet Robert (Irrfan Khan), an avid competitive puzzler who triggers a reassessment of her situation.

Turtletaub's film is a subtle character study that allows Agnes to retain her essential quiet character traits even as her outlook on life and her expectations from her marriage begin to evolve. She has the complexity of a 1000-piecer but even she doesn't realise that at first, her dawning realisation of what she wants proving more difficult to put together than the puzzles she loves so much.

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Macdonald is perfect for the role, finding a series of subtle emotional registers as Agnes begins to realise she is an enigma even to herself, and certainly a lot more complex than her husband gives her credit for being. If Robert is there mainly to enable her character arc, that's a refreshing change from a woman playing second fiddle and the life of his character, with its rich boredom, acts as a sharp contrast to the domestic overload of everyday life for Agnes.

While some of the story trajectory may feel familiar, the way the characters are handled blows freshness through it. Louie, who could have become a one-note monster is revealed to have more dimensions that might first be obvious, while the family unit as a whole is depicted in warm and naturalistic way. As with a jigsaw puzzle, the overall picture may look familiar, but there's a real sense that craftsmanship has gone in to making sure each of the pieces fit satisfyingly together, helped by the lyrical scoring from Dustin O'Halloran, which also benefits from not drawing too much attention to itself.

The physical pieces on the table, although helping to move the plot along, are never allowed to get in the way of the characters - there is a competition but it is kept to a useful backdrop rather than pushing its way into a space that doesn't need it. The entire film, in fact, and the performances within in it are testimony to the power of understatement. Turtletaub's gentle and winning thesis is that it is possible to shift things around to create the picture you want without having to smash everything up in the process.

Reviewed on: 10 Apr 2018
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Agnes, taken for granted as a suburban mother, discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles which unexpectedly draws her into a new world – where her life unfolds in ways she could never have imagined.
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Director: Marc Turtletaub

Writer: Oren Moverman, Natalia Smirnoff

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, David Denman, Irrfan Khan, Austin Abrams, Liv Hewson, Annie Pisapia, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Abigail Friend, Helen Coxe, Lori Hammel, Sebastian Chacon, Bubba Weiler, Ronald Scott Maestri, Mandela Bellamy, Myrna Cabello

Year: 2018

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: US

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