(2009) Drama (Screen Media) Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, Omar Metwally, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ambar Mallman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Norma Argentina, Norma Aleandro, Luciano Suardi. Directed by James Ivory
Our heroes may seem to be one thing on the surface. However when we dig deeper, we may find our first impressions to be much mistaken; in fact, often that status as a hero might not bear close inspection. Then again, whose life can?
Omar Razaghi (Metwally) is a literature professor who wants to write an authorized biography of reclusive but obscure author Jules Gund but the trustees of his estate prove to be polite but firm in their refusal of permission. Omar’s overbearing girlfriend Diedre (Lara) convinces him to trek down to Uruguay to see if he can persuade them in person. Although surprised by his appearance, they put him up at the author’s estate nonetheless.
The trustees consist of Adam (Hopkins), Gund’s ambitious brother; Arden Langdon (Gainsbourg), Gund’s meek mistress and Caroline (Linney), Gund’s acerbic wife who is the one putting up the most resistance to Omar’s request. Factor in Adam’s quiet partner and the arrival of Deirdre and you have a quagmire of emotion and secrets waiting to explode.
I know the plot here is somewhat vague and that isn’t entirely by design – I’m still trying to figure out what this movie is about and haven’t up until now. This is based on a novel by Peter Cameron but curiously has more of a drawing room theatrical atmosphere to it.
This is the first movie directed by James Ivory that his production partner Ismael Merchant hasn’t been involved in (Merchant passed away in 2005 and Ivory filmed it in 2007; legal battles held it out of theaters until 2009) and while longtime Merchant-Ivory writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala did contribute the script, there’s a sense that this may be the final curtain for the production company that brought some of the most memorable movies of the last 20 years to the screen, including Howard’s End and Remains of the Day. Ivory is 83 as of this writing and given that this movie wasn’t a financial success (and the production company hasn’t had one in quite awhile), it may be a bit difficult for him to secure financing for another production. There are those in Hollywood who think his kind of movie is out of vogue; smart is certainly not in at the moment, assuming that it ever was.
There is definitely some high-mindedness to the script and this is most definitely written for those who have more than mindless fun on their itinerary at the theater but smarts don’t a great movie make. For one thing, the critical role of Omar is terribly miscast. Omar is supposed to be a smoldering, sensual presence but Metwally doesn’t have that kind of personality. In fact, one gets the idea that he is a bit overwhelmed by the script and his fellow cast.
After all, Hopkins is one of the greatest actors of this generation and any opportunity to see him work is worth taking. Linney has shown flashes of brilliance at times and even when she isn’t at the top of her game she usually puts on a performance worth seeing.
Part of my issue is that the movie moves along at a snail’s pace. A motion picture implies that there is some sort of movement but this one seems to have paralysis of the pacing. Merchant-Ivory movies always take their time to unfold, but this one never really does, instead plodding along at a majestic pace like a dowager grandly taking her time to descend the stairs to the dinner table, the essence of dignity.
I wish this movie had shown a bit more character, a bit more zing and a bit less intellect. Some movies are all balls and no brain while others are all brains and nothing below the belt (as this one is). There is a happy medium between the two, and it would have made for a much more interesting cinematic experience.
WHY RENT THIS: Hopkins is always worth seeing.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There doesn’t seem to be much of a point. Pacing so languid as to be comatose. Metwally seems out of his depth.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief sexuality with implied nudity (but you really can’t see anything naughty).
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the original novel, the character of Caroline is French but when Linney expressed interest in playing the part, it was re-written as American.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.4M on an $8.3M production budget; this was a commercial failure.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
TOMORROW: Missing Pieces