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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir-scr Oliver Parker|
with Danny Huston, Diego Luna, Paz Vega, Christopher Walken, Anna Galiena, Nathaniel Parker Kwame Kwei-Armah, Semeli Economou, Violante Placido, Pino Ammendola, Daniel Cerqueira, Damir Todorovic
release UK 7.Mar.08
06/UK Ealing 1h35
Deep focus: Luna and Huston
You can kind of understand why this film sat on the shelf for a couple of years after it was made: for a noir mystery, there's very little suspense or complexity. Even the solid cast can't really bring it to life.
After his high-profile break-up with Rita Hayworth in 1948, Orson Welles (Huston) heads to Rome to make the B-movie Black Magic, in which he plays a gypsy king. He also wants to get his career back on track after a string of embarrassments. In his spare time, he's putting together a film of Othello, and he thinks he's found his Desdemona in a bit player, Lea (Vega), whose stepfather has just died mysteriously on set. With his driver Tommaso (Luna), Orson starts investigating the death, stumbling into a political swamp presided over by an old pal (Walken).
Director Parker (An Ideal Husband) establishes a whimsical tone from the start, clearly letting us know not to take what follows too seriously. Indeed, the film has an Agatha Christie feel to it, with the amateur sleuth getting deeper into conspiracy at every step. Into this, Parker stirs rather a lot of moviemaking in-jokes, mainly centring on Welles. And he gets some nicely off-handed performances from solid actors like Huston, Luna, Vega and Walken.
There are also some intriguing themes swirling around in here, as Walken's character represents American meddling in a country on the brink between fascism and communism. The situation in Italy feels genuinely unstable, with all kinds of things going on in the background. And the murder mystery itself expands to engulf this political scenario, plus blackmail and the secret arms trade, not to mention the business of trying to raise the funds to get your pet movie project up and running.
On the other hand, the edgy subtext and lively dialog are left floundering with such lacklustre direction. The film's pace is listless and awkward, and the slack editing doesn't help either. There's virtually no suspense at all, and Welles is a bit too willfully na•ve to like. Especially as the dialog gets increasingly corny. Which only leaves the big climactic scenes fizzling out weakly.
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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