dir Susanne Bier
scr Christopher Kyle
prd Ben Cosgrove, Mark Cuban, Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Todd Wagner, Nick Wechsler
with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu, Sam Reid, Blake Ritson, Ned Dennehy, Michael Ryan, Charity Wakefield
release UK 24.Oct.14, US 25.Feb.15
14/US 1h49
Pleased to meet you: Lawrence and Cooper

ifans jones harris
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Serena There's definitely a sense that this film was compromised in the editing stage, as the sweeping-epic romance feels so harshly chopped that the story unravels as it goes along. Otherwise, it's extremely well-made, with stunning cinematography, an intriguing sense of the period and sharp performances from a superb cast. And while there are moments of raw emotion, the film is simply too uneven to sustain the audience's sympathy.

In late-1920s, George (Cooper) is establishing a lumber empire in the Smoky Mountains just as the Great Depression bites. He also falls instantly in love with Serena (Lawrence), a strong-minded woman with a logging background. But his men are wary of this woman who takes an active interest in the business. Specifically, George's accountant (Dencik) and foreman (Harris) think she threatens their dodgy dealings and perilous workplace, although she connects better with George's hunting tracker Galloway (Ifans). Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Jones) is seeking any excuse to create a protected national park from George's forest.

Shot in the Czech Republic, the film looks spectacular, with mountain landscapes and a terrific sense of a Western-style pioneering outpost on the edge of civilisation. Cooper and Lawrence create real chemistry as a couple defying tradition, although continual cutaways to their lively sex life are unnecessary. (We get it: they're hot for each other!) They play the relationship with real emotional depth, especially in seriously dark moments. And the supporting cast around them is superb at adding shadows and texture.

On the other hand, the encroaching doom starts to feel oppressive as the story drifts into less-interesting political wrangling, legal threats, bribery, blackmail and murder. These completely take over the final act, leaving the more compelling story of a pioneering couple battling against the odds feeling unfinished. In a longer film, all of the elements could be balanced against each other, but this feels like a harshly chopped race to the closing credits.

As a result, several key scenes end up looking vaguely absurd, as everyone hurries along to the next bit of action without properly dealing with where they've just been. Cooper and Lawrence are resonant actors who still make this work, but as the story takes some bleak turns their characters are reduced to mere glimpses of earthy honesty. Everything else is rushed, leaving motivations unclear and themes undeveloped. Surely there's a better, longer cut out there.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 21.Oct.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall