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dir Isabel Coixet
scr Nicholas Meyer
with Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Harry, Kris Pope, Antonio Cupo, Chelah Horsdal, Sonja Bennett, Shaker Paleja, Marci T House
release US/UK 8.Aug.08
08/US Lakeshore 1h48
Make beautiful music: Kingsley and Cruz
BERLIN FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Based on Philip Roth's novel The Dying Animal, this beautifully directed film is packed with serious, provocative themes. But a mopey tone and some wobbly casting undermines the otherwise terrific acting.
Historian David Kepesh (Kingsley) believes the Puritans crushed all sexual pleasure in America until the 1960s, when people decided they wanted love not war. Although his own free spirit isn't exactly making him happy. While his usual girlfriend Carolyn (Clarkson) is away, he moves on to a younger ex-student, Consuela (Cruz). But even when their relationship proves to be a lasting one, he can't resist feelings of jealous and insecurity. His best pal (Hopper) tries to offer sane advice, while his bitter son (Sarsgaard) finds himself in a strangely similar crisis.
Coixet's sensitive approach is intriguing since David is so profoundly unlikeable. Using beautiful cinematography, an elegant score and grounded performances, she tells the story completely from David's perspective, so we see each person as he sees them, with their beauty and their imperfections. And it's the terrific Hopper, Clarkson and Sarsgaard who create the film's most engaging characters--in orbit around David and yet far more in touch with their humanity.
Cruz is perhaps the best she has been in English, looking amazing on screen as she's cleverly dressed and photographed like a cross between Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn. But she also brings an inner soul to Consuela that makes her far more than David's sexy arm candy (if he had the guts to be seen in public with her). Meanwhile, Kingsley gives another expert portrayal of a man who's deeply arrogant, self-centred and paranoid. And here's the problem: Kingsley brings along too much baggage to carry off a role like this.
We really need to believe that there might be someone worthwhile under David's obnoxious exterior, or at least something Consuela can see that we can't. We need to believe that David is capable of seeing into his own soul, even for a split second, for us to buy into the story's startling final scenes. But for all his skill at adding layers of interest, Kingsley plays David at one note from start to finish. And this leaves the film feeling as cold and dry as he is.
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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