When actor Dan Stevens left the beloved television series “Downton Abbey” to pursue a career in film, it set off a traumatic course of fictional events in that show’s plotlines, for which I completely blame him as a person. Therefore, I must judge any subsequent projects of his by the question, Was it worth killing Matthew on “Downton Abbey” for this? Sure, he got to play “Beast” in a giant Disney film, but what about the heartache he caused?
As far as juicy parts for an actor, Stevens’ leading role as James in film festival breakout “The Ticket” fits the bill. When the film begins, his character gets to be blind, and actors’ love of playing a physical affliction is an accepted fact. In an interesting opening sequence, the audience experiences life through James’ eyes — just a blur of light — and the warm conversation with his dear wife is rendered with great intimacy.
To his great astonishment, James wakes the next morning and his sight is restored. He rushes to his son’s bed and sees him for the first time. James also sees his own face for the first time — and, as we all know, it looks pretty darn good. Even as he wanders through his house, the viewer cannot help but notice the garish wallpaper — chosen, like everything, by his wife. While the shrinking of the pituitary tumor that left him blind is undoubtedly a positive turn of events, it causes a major shift in the dynamics of every aspect of his life.
The film’s problems can be summed up by his wife’s exclamation the first night, “I need to do something with my hair, now that you can see it.” James and his family were satisfied when he was sightless, but now that he has had his eyes opened, he gradually becomes disenchanted by what he sees.
When he was blind, James went to great pains to feel and express contentment. When his blindness is cured, it is like he develops a radically different set of standards for himself. His job, cold-calling potential clients for a housing developer, is no longer good enough for him, and he launches a predatory scheme that earns him and the business more money.
He is also no longer content with his wife, played by a surprisingly dowdy Malin Akerman, and once he realizes what his good looks allow him to get away with, he cannot help himself. “The Ticket” becomes something of a Biblical parable, complete with a miracle cure, and a good family man falls prey to greed and avarice.
The excellent performances bring depth and nuance to this cautionary tale. They do a good job of creating both sympathy and culpability to all sides of the story. It is natural for James to rebel against the almost infantile state he was, by necessity, in before.
The most challenging part for me was the extent to which his wife was accustomed to manipulating their lives, because her husband literally could not see the truth. Their son comes home with a black eye; it turns out it’s not the first time, but his mother had previously instructed him not to tell his father. Of course, the evidence wasn’t visible to his father until now.
Having been manipulated for reasons both kindly and less so his entire life, James soon manipulates others, giving motivational speeches for mercenary reasons to promote the housing company. The film’s title comes from an anecdote about a man who prays to win the lottery but never actually buys a ticket. James certainly acts on the message of self-actualization, but loses a great deal in the process. And Dan Stevens’ performance keeps the film fascinating, even when the storyline makes things too black and white.
“The Ticket” is currently available to rent.