Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Capsule Reviews: Trespass, My Week With Marilyn, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Trespass (Joel Schumacher, 2011)

Having premiered at TIFF in September and come to DVD not two months later, Trespass couldn't possibly have been any good, but its badness is still striking. Shot with colors so artlessly exaggerated it looks merely as if someone adjusted the color balance rather than composed anything, Trespass wouldn't be interesting if it were lensed by Emmanuel Lubezki. A bog-standard house thriller with a simperingly moralistic message about family, the film proceeds with hilariously random flashbacks, endless narrative diversions, and hopelessly absurd dialogue. Nicole Kidman still can't get her emotions to match her starched facial expressions, while Nic Cage plays the fast-talking diamond dealer with his usual incoherent yelling. (I confess that his agonized cry of "You shit fucking animals!" is something of a highlight.) The film does improve (by which I mean becomes even worse) when someone socks Cage in the mouth and he speaks with a thick voice the rest of the film. But not even the delight of Cage at his worst can make up from Schumacher's clumsily overactive direction or the constant addition of conflicts thanks to useless reveals.

My Week With Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011)

When a film summarizes itself with its opening text scrawl, it has to work twice as hard to make the audience care for what is to come. But Simon Curtis' lazy sorta biopic doesn't have an ounce of insight in it, printing the legend and never engaging Monroe on any human level. We get a glossed-over view of her instability, with the brilliant Michelle Williams setting aside her command of elegantly controlled body language to offer up an Oscar-ready performance of big accents and aggressive acting. Kenneth Branagh, however, redeems much of the film's facile approach, giving his finest performance in years as a crotchety, thin-lipped Sir Laurence Olivier, looking for rejuvenation in co-starring with Monroe but discovering only his obsolescence in the process. But he can only overcome so much; Curtis even presents Monroe as an airhead in her private life, taking her to a giant library only to have her rush to a massive dollhouse to ooh and aah. By presenting her as naïve and simple behind closed doors, the director never truly delineates between the real woman and the ass-shaking, pose-striking, kiss-blowing sex symbol who turns on every time the press finds her.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

We Need to Talk About Kevin has two strong factors in its favor. One is the direction of Lynne Ramsay, who relies on striking, even idiosyncratic visuals and her actors' body language to convey story and emotion while still being lucid enough to not only follow but predict (almost to the film's detriment). The other is Tilda Swinton, who captures the trauma and paranoia of being not merely the witness to but the ultimate target of her child's killing spree, not only scanning her memories to find out where it all went wrong but feeling the hot sting of hostile stares from the community that blames her for her son's rampage. Together, Ramsay and Swinton create a claustrophobic mood wracked with doubt, as even Eva begins to wonder if she truly is at fault.

Where the film falls down is in its handling of Kevin, who upends whatever nature vs. nature debates arise from some of Eva's memories by being so innately evil that comparisons to such films as The Omen and The Bad Seed have cropped up everywhere.. Every child hired to portray the child at various stages has dark, expressionless stares and absent humanity, which makes the occasional glimpse of a slapped hand or a cutting remark from Eva or a violent video game enthusiastically played seem like belated attempts to add a counterbalance. When young Kevin caustically responds to his mother's remark about matching a room to his personality with, "What personality?" he lets on more than he realizes. At times, the film displays the more nuanced tone of the visual assembly that makes Kevin almost compelling, but soon he's back to that lifeless look in his eyes, leaving me wanting more of these complex moments.

Nevertheless, Swinton is so good at finding depth in the only person ever simplified more than the child killer in such situations, and Ramsay's direction is often so compelling despite its occasional obviousness, that We Need to Talk About Kevin emerges one of the finer films of the year. When everything, or even just most things, click, it makes for a haunting study of survivor's guilt that even manages to find hints of redemption amid the bleakness of the red-soaked visuals and Johnny Greenwood's howling score.

1 comment:

  1. Your critique of My Week With Marilyn fails to incorporate the element that the film is not from her point of view. We can never get to the heart of Marilyn, because the film is not about her. It's about Colin Clarke's perceptions of her. I think the film is rather brilliant (compared to other films of that ilk) as it remains true to its strict point of view and remains rather fascinating due to its cinematic history and masterful central performance.