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Review: Brian Cox brings salty charm to otherwise sappy ‘The Etruscan Smile’

Thora Birch holding a baby, Brian Cox and JJ Feild in the movie “The Etruscan Smile.”
Thora Birch, left with baby, Brian Cox and JJ Feild in the movie “The Etruscan Smile.”
(Lightyear Entertainment)

Brian Cox brings his Scottish brogue to “The Etruscan Smile” as Rory MacNeil, a role that Cox was seemingly born to play: a rough and wild man from the Hebrides off of Scotland, who gets in touch with his softer side when he’s forced to rekindle a relationship with his estranged son in San Francisco.

Cox of HBO’s “Succession” is the glue that holds together this maudlin picture, directed by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis, and written by Michael McGowan, Michal Lali Kagan and Sarah Bellwood, based on a novel by Jose Luis Sampedro. Rory’s salty attitude, fortified by daily nude dips in the Atlantic, is just the antidote to the uptight lifestyle his son Ian (JJ Feild) has adopted as a molecular gastronomist married to a wealthy Type A woman, Emily (Thora Birch). A cancer diagnosis sends Rory to San Francisco to seek treatment, but what he finds there is a therapy you won’t get in a doctor’s office: true human connection.

While Rory romances a local museum curator (Rosanna Arquette) and tries to impart all of his Gaelic wisdom to his infant grandson Jamie, his rocky relationship with Ian stumbles before they can reach some kind of catharsis and understanding, with little time to make things right.

Cox is a wonder to watch, and seeing him in this gentle, vulnerable role, also spouting folk tales and seductions in ancient Scottish Gaelic, is a treat. If only the rest of this sappy story stood up to his talents.

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‘The Etruscan Smile’
In English and Gaelic with English subtitles

Rated: R, for some language

Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino


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