Twisted take on big pharma
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