Twisted take on big pharma

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

TONY Gil­roy, whose de­but as di­rec­tor, Michael Clay­ton ( 2007), was gen­er­ally well re­ceived, ob­vi­ously has a thing about multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions. The vil­lain in that film was a gi­ant agri­cul­tural com­pany will­ing to stop at noth­ing to pre­vent some dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about one of its prod­ucts be­com­ing pub­lic. Gil­roy’s new film, , has two gi­ant phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies locked in a strug­gle so in­tense that they em­ploy vast num­bers of se­cret agents to dis­cover the other’s se­crets. Ju­lia Roberts plays Claire Sten­wick, for­merly CIA, now an un­der­cover op­er­a­tive, se­cretly work­ing for Bur­kett & Ran­dle while serv­ing as a se­cu­rity ex­pert for that com­pany’s bit­ter ri­val, Om­nikrom. Clive Owen is Ray Ko­val, for­merly of MI6, and her con­tact.

As we dis­cover in the open­ing se­quence, set in Dubai in 2003, the two of them first met when they were em­ployed by their re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments; they spent a night to­gether and she stole se­cret files from him, so they’re not, at first, par­tic­u­larly happy to be work­ing to­gether again.

Du­plic­ity has other el­e­ments in com­mon with Michael Clay­ton , but takes them to fur­ther ex­tremes; the ear­lier film’s con­vo­luted struc­ture is a model of lin­ear sim­plic­ity com­pared with this one, which leaps about in time and lo­ca­tion to the point that many view­ers may sim­ply give up try­ing to fol­low it. That would be a pity be­cause Gil­roy writes very well and much of the di­a­logue be­tween Roberts and Owen — beau­ti­fully de­liv­ered by the ac­tors — is a treat for the ears. He also casts well: Tom Wilkin­son plays the head of Bur­kett & Ran­dle and Paul Gia­matti his coun­ter­part at Om­nikrom; they’re both con­sum­mate ac­tors and revel in the juicy parts Gil­roy has given them ( though their slo-mo en­counter on an air­field, played be­hind the film’s cred­its, is a se­ri­ous mis­cal­cu­la­tion).

As a love story, Du­plic­ity is pretty sat­is­fac­tory. It plays on the fact that its pro­tag­o­nists don’t trust any­one, so why should they trust one an­other? And, again like Michael Clay­ton, it hinges on scenes that at first ap­pear baf­fling but even­tu­ally are ex­plained in gen­er­ally sat­is­fy­ing ways. It’s a pity, then, that James New­ton Howard’s mu­sic score is so re­lent­lessly in­tru­sive and that Gil­roy’s plot­ting gets so com­pli­cated be­fore ev­ery­thing be­comes clear in the end.

The film will ben­e­fit from a sec­ond view­ing, but audiences may ( rightly) feel that Gil­roy is be­ing just a lit­tle too in­dul­gent in his clever, but bur­den­some, sleight of hand.

* * * IN the mid­dle of the global eco­nomic cri­sis, a film that de­picts the col­lapse of civil­i­sa­tion may not be a ter­ri­bly wel­come ar­rival at the mul­ti­plexes, but

based on the 1995 novel by No­bel prize-winning Por­tuguese writer Jose Sara­m­ago, de­mands to be taken se­ri­ously. Made in Canada and Brazil by Brazil­ian di­rec­tor Fer­nando Meirelles, the film fea­tures a multi­na­tional cast headed by Ju­lianne Moore, Mark Ruf­falo and Danny Glover. It opened last year’s Cannes film fes­ti­val and has ‘‘ im­por­tant’’ writ­ten all over it. But de­spite con­sid­er­able qual­i­ties, it falls far short of cap­tur­ing the im­pact of the orig­i­nal book.

The set­ting is a large, un­named North Amer­i­can city where a Ja­panese man ( Yusuke Iseya) is sud­denly struck blind while driv­ing his car. A kindly stranger, played by the film’s Cana­dian screen­writer, Don McKel­lar, first helps and then aban­dons him, and it’s left to his wife ( Yoshino Kimura) to get him to a hospi­tal where he is treated by a doc­tor ( Ruf­falo). Be­fore long, all th­ese peo­ple mys­te­ri­ously have been blinded and are taken to a spe­cial gov­ern­ment hold­ing area where they’re strictly con­fined amid de­te­ri­o­rat­ing con­di­tions.

Strangely, the doc­tor’s wife ( Moore) is un­af­fected by what­ever it is that has blinded every­one else: she can see, but she keeps this a se­cret for fear she will be sep­a­rated from her hus­band.

It’s an in­trigu­ing premise but on screen, at least, the ef­fect is numb­ing. The idea that so­ci­ety is blind — that al­though we can see, we can’t re­ally see — worked much bet­ter on the printed page; maybe this is one book that is un­filmable. There are some pos­i­tives; mer­ci­fully, Meirelles has aban­doned the shaky-cam style that made his pre­vi­ous films, City of God and The Con­stant Gar­dener , hard to watch at times. Blind­ness is beau­ti­fully, if starkly, shot by Ce­sar Char­lone. Moore and Ruf­falo bring in­tel­li­gence to their roles and Mex­i­can ac­tor Gael Gar­cia Ber­nal is sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive as a vi­cious young man who wants to rule this new, sick so­ci­ety. How­ever, Glover’s oc­ca­sional all-know­ing com­men­tary and the dreary mu­sic score dull the edges of what was bound to be a chal­leng­ing project.

* * * WE never know what causes the blind­ness in Blind­ness . Nor does 12-year-old Oskar ( Kare Hede­brant) un­der­stand why his new best friend, Eli ( Lina Le­an­der­s­son), is a vam­pire, but he ac­cepts her any­way. The Swedish film

is based on a book by John Aj­vide Lindqvist and plays like a tougher, more ex­plicit and more po­etic vari­a­tion on the cult book and film Twi­light , a very sim­i­lar story ex­cept that in the lat­ter the girl is nor­mal and the boy is a vam­pire. The chil­dren in Twi­light are teenagers; that they’re pre-teens in di­rec­tor To­mas Al­fred­son’s film makes it more dis­turb­ing.

The story is set in 1982, for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son. Oskar lives in a bleak apart­ment block with his di­vorced mother. He’s a strange, pale-faced child who is bul­lied at school and leads a lonely, bit­ter ex­is­tence. Then Eli moves in next door with an older man, Hakan ( Per Rag­nar), who peo­ple as­sume is her fa­ther. He is scruffy, strange and a bit smelly, and she goes out only at night. A strange friend­ship de­vel­ops be­tween th­ese two out­casts, even af­ter it dawns on Oskar that his new friend feeds on the hu­man blood ac­quired for her by the fre­quently in­ept Hakan.

Tran­scend­ing its grim theme, this is an as­ton­ish­ingly beau­ti­ful and vis­ually in­ven­tive film that ex­plores the cliches of the vam­pire genre with a deft, everyday ap­proach. There’s at least one se­quence — in­volv­ing sev­eral vi­cious cats — that will stay with me for a long time, and the film has a very Swedish ap­proach to vi­o­lence and sex­u­al­ity, which are pre­sented as part of the wider scheme of things. The per­for­mances of the two young leads are first-rate and help to make this gen­uinely creepy hor­ror film one of the most strik­ing, and strangely beau­ti­ful, vam­pire movies of re­cent times.

Di­vided loy­al­ties: Ju­lia Roberts and Clive Owen as cor­po­rate spies Claire Sten­wick and Ray Ko­val

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