On paper, "The Greatest" reads like Oscar bait: A long-married couple (Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon) mourns the loss of their 18-year-old son, Bennett (Aaron Johnson), in a car wreck. Three months later, his secret girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) shows up, pregnant with Bennett's child.
That's not your ordinary, everyday family drama ... until it becomes one.
Writer/director Shana Feste does justice to her interesting premise for nearly half the running time, before throwing all goodwill out the window by veering toward the manipulative and unrealistic. By the time Brosnan and Mulligan go to a wild party and share a couch with a naked man tripping on acid, you'll be as stunned as the stoned guy.
Settling in to his age nicely, Brosnan is excellent as the father so grief-stricken, he can't bear to hear his son's name, but Sarandon really hams it up as his bitchy wife. Her scenes seem to come out of a comedy, and the film is more than willing to play it that way near the end, as the clan drives Mulligan to the hospital to birth the baby, in a sequence that's beyond ridiculous.
Even Michael Shannon, so damned good in "Revolutionary Road," has a small part written so shoddily, you're unsure whether to laugh. And when a scene-stealer like Shannon can't help it, you know you're in trouble.
"The Greatest" isn't the worst, but it comes nowhere close to the qualifications of its title. "?Rod Lott