Cast: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates
Director: Mimi Leder
If Felicity Jones wants to win an Academy Award, she has to pick better Oscar-bait to act in. While Jones is absolutely great in the role, On the Basis of Sex suffers from the same issue that The Theory of Everything faced, which is the story is incredible generic and flawed. While the performances of Jones and Hammer carry this film for 120 minutes, I wish the story focused on the entire career of an incredible woman instead of the portion of her life leading up to her success and showcased how she became the modern-day inspiration that she is.
The film chronicles the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jones), a talented and brilliant woman from her days as a young mother at Harvard Law School to her days as a law professor at Rutgers to her work fighting for the end of discrimination against women and her fight for true gender equality. The difference between an entertaining film and a poorly made film are the performances, and Leder got some truly great performances out of Jones and Hammer. Starting off with Jones, I absolutely believed that this was the way Ginsburg acted around her family and inside of a classroom or courtroom, and Jones is one of the few actresses who could have pulled this off so brilliantly. From the mannerisms she had to the way that she talked, you can tell Jones put lots of time and effort into preparing for this role and her presence shows that it paid off. On the other hand, Hammer does what he has done so well in the past, providing a strong supporting role and making the most of his screen time. Hammer has established himself as one of the go-to person to for meaty roles that help boost a film and he certainly does so in the role of Ruth’s faithful and friendly husband Martin. Outside of these two and a very small appearance from Bates, the acting is really the only thing that makes this movie work at an elite level. The film focuses so much on Ruth’s court case where defends Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey) that it doesn’t feel like it goes in depth into the rest of Ruth’s legal work. At points I’m not sure if this is a biopic or just a film full of, “gotcha,” moments where women defeat old sexist men. The film hinted that Ginsberg would eventually present in front of the Supreme Court, but if you are a viewer who is less familiar with this time period or this movement in general, this film makes it look like Ginsberg is the sole reason why women have the rights they do today. Since we know this is clearly not the case, it would have been easier for the audience to digest if the movie more on the cases that Ginsberg battled in and built up her career as an expert litigator instead wrapping the film around one major victory. I can see why the movie chose the path that it went down, but if this plot had been shown from a different angle, I think the points would have been clearer to the audience.
Overall, this is the type of movie I would expect to come out around awards season and it plays like your typical Oscar-bait film. In this particular case, it is sad because looking at what Ginsberg has accomplished in her life, there is more than enough material to work from to create an elite movie. While the casting was spot on and the technical aspects like the score and cinematography neither aid nor detract from the film, the story just didn’t have enough steam to push a good movie over the edge into a great movie.
Overall Score: 7/10