Art & Culture

Roman Polanski will be 80 next year. He directed his first film 50 years ago. Chinatown is one of the great all time movies. This is his new film. It's based on a stage play (and it shows). It has an impressive cast. I don't think I enjoyed it very much, but it's not a bad film. Is it worth seeing? Possibly. I'm sorry I can't be more definitive, but while it is considerably better than a lot of the run of the mill dross that comes and goes, it isn't what you would call a very satisfying film, and I'll try and explain why.

Apart from the opening and closing shots, it all takes place within one room; the apartment belonging to married couple Jodie Foster and John C Reilly (who are about as implausible a couple as you could find). They are having an amicable conversation with Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, because the son of the latter couple damaged their son in a fight whose causes are unclear. These are sophisticated modern people, so they're dealing with it in a grown up manner, by discussing things reasonably. But since the film is going to go on for the best part of 90 minutes, clearly this veneer of civilised exchange is not going to last, otherwise there wouldn't be a film.

And this is my first complaint. We know that things are going to go downhill, so there is almost nothing in the way of a surprise when tempers start to fray and people stop being polite. The limited setting doesn't help either. On many occasions, Waltz and Winslet are heading out of the door, but never quite make it into the lift. This feels artificial. As does a good deal of the dialogue, and the characters themselves. There is nothing unexpected. Even the shocking moments lack the element of surprise. Waltz is a superior being, forever on his mobile; Winslet is torn between duty to her husband, and her frustration at his obsession with work. Foster is an uptight liberal seething with anger under a prim exterior, while Reilly is a good-natured oaf, concealing a bigot under a cuddly exterior. They're less like people, and more like notes towards characters. I didn't like them, care about them, or care about what happened to them.

And yet Polanski is a director with a real talent for confining people in claustrophobic spaces and watching them crack and crumble. He's a great director of actors, and there's a lot to admire here. But when it comes down to it, this reminds me of Doubt, another stage play converted to the screen, which feels as though it would have worked better in front of an audience. I rather cynically suspect that actors like this kind of work, because it feels like Real Acting, because they are more likely to get awards, and they can work from close to home.

I'd love to hear from anyone who can shed more light on why this film doesn't (or does) work.


Phil Raby

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