(2001)4Karl WilliamsThe migration of top-notch cinematic talent to the less-constrained arena of pay television continued with this adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the cable channel HBO from director Mike Nichols. Nichols gives it the old college try with plenty of high angles and creative lighting schemes, but the story never quite succeeds in overcoming its stage-bound roots. That's the sole flaw, however, of what is one of the year's best made-for-television films, nominated for seven Emmys and winning three (including one for Nichols as Best Director). An emotionally devastating portrait of a dying woman whose superior mind and flinty personality are intact to an unfortunate and heartbreaking degree, the film manages to have its lacerating say about the educational and health care systems while never forgetting that it's primarily the tale of a dying woman who is fighting to maintain a shred of dignity while having been stripped down, literally, to her essence, even her hair having been taken away. Wit is the story of a person who couldn't possibly be more naked, refusing to give in to self-pity despite mind-numbing amounts of pain and humiliation, a demanding role that requires a mammoth talent. Emma Thompson doesn't disappoint, with a performance that is absolutely stunning in its emotional complexity, intellectual integrity, and sheer elastic flexibility: deconstructing the death imagery in the work of poet John Donne one minute, vomiting into a basin the next, she has made herself by turns as ravaged, flinty, desperate, and fiercely defiant as her character. Theirs is certainly not a film for the faint of heart, but Nichols and Thompson have created something special and given the world further proof that some of the best artistic work in film can now be found in television, the medium once considered cinema's greatest nemesis.