Michael Caine was robbed of an Oscar. He gives his finest performance in a decade as big-talking small-time agent Ray Say, a paunchy, pale life of the party hiding his desperation under gold chains and cool bravura. When he hears the almost magical voice of Jane Horrocks's meek little LV (short for Little Voice) fill her bedroom with the rich voice of Judy Garland, he sees his ticket to the big time. Little Voice is ostensibly LV's story, and in fact the original play was written for Horrocks, whose amazing vocal impressions of Garland, Shirley Bassey, and Marilyn Monroe (among others) form the centerpiece performance of the film. But as directed by Mark Herman (Brassed Off), the story of this mousy girl who shuts herself in from a bellowing world is just as overwhelmed by the bombastic characters as LV herself. Brenda Blethyn babbles a blue streak as LV's overbearing mother, Mari, an aging widow who escapes her unhappiness in carousing and becomes almost pathologically jealous when Ray's attentions turn from her to LV. As Ray puts his dreams on the line for LV's showcase, he reveals his true self: a venal man who spits and barks out his bottled-up anger in an astoundingly bile-filled delivery of Roy Orbison's "It's Over." The showstopping moment once again overwhelms LV's tale, but Caine's performance is so astounding it seems a fair trade. --Sean Axmaker
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