Even as I acknowledge the writerly trappings of the source material (Edward Albee’s play) and the labored camerawork that first-time director Mike Nichols employs to make them more cinematic, there is still a bottom line here: I could watch Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton do this for hours. As Martha and George—married academics who invite the new couple on campus to their home for a boozy, late-night visit—they’re scintillatingly in sync while clawing at each other’s throats. They treat Albee’s dialogue as if it were repartee from a 1940s screwball comedy that’s gone sour. (It’s quick but acrid.) By 1966, Taylor had learned to employ the sort of modulation that was missing in 1958’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, so that her Martha is wild as a character but disciplined as a performance. Burton, meanwhile, is effortlessly fast and precise in his line readings, suggesting an insulted intelligence that lies dormant under George’s slumped sweater. Together, they’re the perfect storm. What Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh did for Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Burton and Taylor do for Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? They remind us that sometimes writing and directing must simply step aside and concede the power of performance.