Two Film Reviews By Alex Grant
Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam
Directed by Neil LaBute
The marriage of
world class but glib misanthropic film-maker Neil LaBute to the preening
polymath literary lioness A.S. Byatt could have produced a very ungainly,
unbecoming offspring. Byatts huge tome (five hundred plus pages)
Possession took the Booker Prize in 1990.
Like John Fowles The French Lieutenants Woman, Byatts
novel interweaves past and present in its account of two love affairs:
One Victorian and C19th; the other Elizabethan C20th. You could rename
the movie as The English Lesbians Man.
Possession has been scripted and directed so as to ruthlessly simplify
the obtusely mock-poetic and rhapsodic novel into a seemingly juvenile
or adolescent bodice-ripper/Harlequin Romance.
The process of dumbing down its literary source leaves the film Possession
superficially no more than an empty travelogue vessel.
The handsome, dashing lovers in the 1859 episodes flit from luxuriant
Anglo country houses to lavish Gallic chateaux by way of evocative
waterfalls and sylvan trysting places. Europe has seldom looked so captivating.
Glistening cobblestones, dreaming spires, and bosky groves galore.
A New Yorker glossy travel insert come to life.
Yet director LaBute and his pair of top draw scenarists playwriter
David Henry Hwang and arch-feminist Laura Jones are capable of
daring sleight of hand.
Just when you think you can safely sink into an eiderdown comforter
of a self-indulgent bodice-ripper, the film-makers haul a colony of
frisky white rabbits from out of their shiny top hat.
They cuff us briskly around the ears at the exact moment we are about
to surrender to the rampant romantic poppycock they have confected to
lead us gullible romantics entirely astray.
The ill-fated outcome of the passionate adultery of the Victorian couple,
two poets one a former follower of Sappho: the other a man, who
for far too long has "understood" his wifes frigidity
involves both a ghastly suicide and a beautiful love-child.
These two revelations ground Possession in a moving adult undertow of
genuine regret and remorse. Suddenly, the film divests itself of the
trappings of hollow Harlequin moaning and groaning and becomes worthy
of our respect by reminding us forcibly of our own emotional reality.
A Film Review By Alex Grant
Angela Bassett - Desiree
Perry Edie Falco - Marly Temple
James McDaniel - Reggie Perry
Ralph Waite - Furman Temple
Richard Edson - Steve Tregaskis
Miguel Ferrer - Lester
Timothy Hutton - Jack Meadows
Mary Steenburgen - Francine Pickney
Jane Alexander - Delia Temple
Marc Blucas - Scotty Duval
Gordon Clapp - Earl Pickney
Alan King - Murray Silver
Mary Alice - Eunice Stokes
Bill Cobbs - Dr. Lloyd
Tom Wright - Flash Phillips
Alexander Lewis - Terrell
Directed by John
Bill cobbs and Angela Bassett
Sayles, at age 55, has over a a twenty year period painstakingly and laboriously
learned how to infuse telling visual imagery into the smart-as-a-whip,
choc-a-bloc with detail scenarios that he has wittily been penning since
his debut 'The Return of the Secaucus Seven'. With 'Sunshine State' Sayles
brings to bear unnervingly well his customary gift for brisk, no-nonsense
dialogue; his well-versed affinity for bringing out the very best of sincerity
from his cast. More importantly he shows a previously untapped talent
for surreal imagery and delicate, other-worldly editing. Too often in
the past, with the exception of his masterly 'Lone Star', Sales has severely
sold short his lucid scripts with inept scene-setting and ham-fisted visualization,
despite his powerful thematic drive. 'Sunshine State', an ambitious multi-layered
satire on progress as the all-American rampant vice, is set in idyllic
Florida backwater. Plantation Island is divided into two racially segregated
communities: white Delrona Beach and black Lincoln Beach. The film offers
a rich panoply almost entirely devoid of Sayles preachiness and droning
didacticism. For once the filmmaker simply tells his tale by means of
both a resonant visual style and a punchy pictorial panache. A host of
credible characters cope with the insistent ingratiating influx of corrupting
latter-day carpetbaggersreal estate developers bent upon slashing and
burning the past.
In the Deep South, the Civil War has never ended. Nowadays, lawyers, accountants,
landscape architects and their cronies are the front-line troops battling
in the corporate trenches hand-to-hand. I would prefer not to hand out
kudos to individual players. The cast is uniformly strong committed and
uncannily vivid in each of their portrayals of modern muddle-headed men
and women. An overwhelming undertow of melancholy and profound dissatisfaction
with public and private selves ebbs and flows throughout the two hours,
twenty-one minutes of Sayles¹ superb Sunshine State. It is a cutting commentary
on the dilemmas of the heartless, capitalistic engine grinding down both
dissent and diversity, seeking conformity and a scorched-earth denial
of a common past, or what is known as history.
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