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dir-scr Paul Haggis
prd Paul Breuls, Michael Nozik, Paul Haggis
with Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde, James Franco, Moran Atias, Maria Bello, Kim Basinger, Vinicio Marchioni, David Harewood, Loan Chabanol, Riccardo Scamarcio
release US 20.Jun.14, UK 14.Nov.14
Writer's block: Wilde and Neeson
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Like Crash, Haggis crafts another complex multistrand screenplay about elements of the human condition. While it has moments that touch a nerve, and some nicely detailed performances, the film never quite comes together to deliver the clearly intended gut punch.
In Paris, blocked writer Michael (Neeson) is struggling to regain his authorial voice, having just left his wife (Basinger) for his sassy mistress (Wilde), who merrily leads him on a cat-and-mouse romance. Meanwhile in Rome, fashion-industry spy Scott (Brody) is caught up with sexy hooker Monika (Atias), trying to rescue her daughter from an extortion-happy thug (Marchioni). And in New York, Julia (Kunis) is working with her lawyer (Bello) to sort out a custody agreement for her son with her ex, a famous painter (Franco).
All of these stories involve lost children, yearning parents and messy relationships, although the linking elements are a bit obtuse (aside from a bit of random space-shifting). Each situation has its own resonant elements, even if the plots themselves feel oddly predictable. Emotions often swell up in realistic ways that just about lift the film's mopey pace, although the gloom only clears because the cast is so gifted at playing submerged, nuanced feelings.
Kunis has the most involving role, although the film is edited in such a way that it abandons her for long stretches of time and puts her most powerful scenes off-screen. Julia's journey has the most complex trajectory, as its revelations are genuinely intriguing. By contrast, Brody's Italian odyssey feels oddly cliched from start to finish and Neeson and Wilde's sparring romance feels far too snappy and constructed. Everyone else is fairly muted, although Bello has a couple of strong moments to herself.
As a director Haggis has a tendency to be far too obvious when he's trying to be clever, which leaves the story's trickier elements feeling over-familiar and over-explained (is all of this in Michael's head as he writes?). So the film is a bit of a slog, even if each plot thread has some moving moments in it. There are several genuinely telling observations along the way about the nature of attraction, creativity and grief, but it's all wrapped in such a lacklustre package that the audience struggles to maintain interest. We keep watching just to see how it turns out, but it's not easy to care what happens.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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