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dir David Mackenzie
scr Kim Fupz Aakeson
prd Gillian Berrie, Malte Grunert
with Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Ewen Bremner, Connie Nielsen, Stephen Dillane, Alastair Mackenzie, Denis Lawson, James Watson, Shabana Akhtar Bakhsh, Caroline Paterson, Richard Mack, Liz Strange
release US Jan.11 sff, UK 7.Oct.11
11/UK Zentropa 1h32
See me, hear me, feel me: Green and McGregor
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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This high-concept apocalyptic thriller starts well, with a lush visual style and strong performances. But Danish screenwriter Aakeson immediately writes himself into a corner: the story and characters have nowhere to go beyond bleak acceptance of the inevitable. So it's difficult to care what happens.
A mysterious illness sweeps the world causing people to experience horrible grief before losing their sense of smell. This creates a challenge for Glasgow chef Michael (McGregor), but that's easy compared to the next epidemic: terror followed by the loss of taste. So with his assistant (Bremner), he experiments with temperature and texture to keep customers happy. Meanwhile, Michael falls for Susan (Green), an epidemiologist trying to figure out what's happening. People are adjusting to the changes, but the next wave involves rage and hearing loss. How long can human resilience endure?
Mackenzie directs sensually, with visceral cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens), swelling music, moody montages and over-poetic narration. This helps make up for the low-energy plot, which relies on a sense of foreboding to push it forward. But without much tension, we pin our hope on the central romance to hold our interest. But it's too dull and awkward to grab our sympathies.
Oddly, believability isn't the problem. The superb actors create realistic characters who interact honestly and cope in intriguing ways. The screenplay also cleverly touches on government conspiracies, terrorism and environmental issues with news-style footage from all over the world. And the ways people adjust to the senses they have left add a glimmer of hope. Although instead of suspense we only feel dread about what's to come.
As a result, the narrative feels arbitrary and the film itself is merely interesting without engaging our emotions. By the time everyone experiences a sudden wave of euphoria, we know there are only two senses left to lose. At least the euphoria gives them a brief period of joy before the final horror sets in. But instead of giving us characters on a journey, we are only watching them shut down. And it's extremely frustrating to see such a gifted cast and crew create a beautiful film that hits a wall in its first act.
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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