Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Capsule Reviews: The Deep Blue Sea, Cloud Atlas, Rust and Bone

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012)

Lit in a stuffy haze by Florian Hoffmeister, Terence Davies’ adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea continues the director’s penchant for visualizing the confining boundaries of conservative British upbringing. Ambiguities poke through, though, as they did for his masterpiece Distant Voices, Still Lives. Here, the cukolding love triangle of Rachel Weisz, lover Tim Hiddleston and elder husband Simon Russell Beale certainly exhibit melodramatic flourishes—“To the Impressionists!” is a boisterously funny outburst begging to join the ranks of a cinephile’s referential quotes. Yet the material also resembles a British take on Anna Karenina, where the cheated husband responds not with blustering, annihilating anger but a measured, conflicted tone of hurt and resignation. Weisz and Hiddleston face the negative consequences of passion, but it is Beale who grounds the film and threatens to steal the film as the person truly suffering in all this. His flicker of a smile and the pant of excitement in his voice when he notes Weisz still wears her wedding ring is so delicate the film threatens to blow away with the extra breath in his exhale, and his subsequent offer to help her transition away from him in any way he can is more poignant and heartbreaking than the subsequent travails Weisz faces with her impetuous new beau. Grade: B+

Cloud Atlas (Larry Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer, 2012)

The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer adapt David Mitchell’s novel by breaking up its Matryoshka doll structure into a cross-cut epic spanning time and space, yet the end result feels curiously unambitious. As with Mitchell’s book, each of the six stories is told in its own generic style, be it a corporate espionage thriller in the 1970s, a period melodrama of the early 20th century, a dystopic sci-fi social commentary in the not-too-distant future, and so on. But where Mitchell handles these transitions not simply with narrative adjustments but overhauls in prose, the direction across these separate stories is curiously homogenous despite some visibly different input between the chunk of segments primarily shot by the Wachowskis and those of Tkywer. Perhaps this was intended to keep the film stable, as it does not follow the novel’s structure but constantly leaps between each story. Nevertheless, this undermines each of the sub-films within the larger framework, for they lack direction unique to them, while the overarching themes of suffering and kindness echoed across each avatar lack the passion I expected. The remarked-upon race- and gender-bending of the cast members across the different stories brings to mind, of course, Lana Wachowski’s own violation of social binaries (a.k.a. that vile “natural order” bandied about by the villains who recur in different power positions throughout). Strange, then, and unfortunate, that the final film should feel so removed from its own earnest call for upending that system in favor of making a better, gentler world. The altered conclusion takes that quest literally, but that only makes the setting as removed as the tone, and indeed the hollow but sincere warmth the filmmakers find in the material can also feel like a capitulation to the order. Grade: D+

Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012)

Two scenes in Rust and Bone bring Jacques Audiard’s direction in alignment with the complex, multitudinous emotions conjured by his actors. The first is Stéphanie’s (Marion Cotillard) return to water after an accident during her orca show at a sea park left her without legs. Cotillard’s face registers fear, nervousness, eagerness and, eventually, rhapsody as kickboxer Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) carries her into the ocean and she finds herself “home” again even as she struggles to adjust. The second, when the pair have sex for the first time, brings those same emotions back as Audiard playfully moves with Stéphanie’s preparations, holding on the removal of stockings and darting to trace her quick concealment of her prosthetic legs. The rest, tragically, betrays the subtleties the leads bring to the movie, with intrusive close-ups and ill-advised fade-outs to the soundtrack force emotions where Cotillard and Schoenaerts so deftly left matters without easy conclusions and invited the audience to truly engage with their characters. Grade: C

1 comment:

  1. Agree with your grade for The Deep Blue Sea – loved Weisz, thought the movie as a whole was good not great. I like Cloud Atlas slightly more than you, and people’s (mostly) dissatisfaction with Rust and Bone is something I’ve come to terms with. It’s my favorite film of 2012, but I understand why people don’t dig it as much as me.

    Good reviews here.