CAN you imagine directing your mother in a film? The task is a trifle easier if your mother is Charlotte Rampling.
Barnaby Southcombe is the son who cast his mum in I, Anna, a modern noir thriller released this week that may appeal to mature audiences who have already seen Dustin Hoffman’s comic drama Quartet. There are many things to like about Southcombe’s modest film despite it displaying the lapses and holes so typical of a debut feature.
First, the performances are top notch from the lead cast. We should always expect that of Rampling, who one may believe is wise enough to select roles that suit her or won’t embarrass her. At least that’s my defining image of the star of The Night Porter, Swimming Pool, The Verdict, Under the Sand and Stardust Memories. Then I reacquainted myself with her extensive curriculum vitae and, among the fine period dramas and measured European films, the English actress has hidden away her fair share of turkeys and paydays, including Basic Instinct 2, Babylon A.D. and StreetDance 3-D. That only goes to show how her captivating work overwhelms all else; I’d still happily watch her crossing the street which, as it happens, she does quite a bit of in I, Anna.
Then there’s Gabriel Byrne, so good in the late 1980s and early 90s in films including Gothic, Miller’s Crossing and, of course, The Usual Suspects. Again memories of his best work, including the recent US series In Treatment, tend to forgive the mediocre choices of a handsome and intriguing screen character.
Rampling and Byrne play the noir couple in I, Anna (MA15+, Transmission, 93min, $34.95). Rampling’s Anna is a middle-aged divorcee whose dating adventures come to a disastrous halt when one of her presumed conquests ends in a messy blood-stained death. Byrne’s Bernie is the troubled, low-key cop tracking her first for a rendezvous and then, as it happens, as a suspect. The film doesn’t provide the pace to make the duo as noir-ish as Bogart and Bacall, though. Their adult and believable dialogue is not quite as wry or snappy as in conventional noir but their stilted encounters lead to a convincing love story.
Good noir tends to need a strong lead couple; or it did in its grand period in the 40s and 50s. Modern noir feels more stylistic than substantial. Moody shots in LA’s late afternoon sun and a mumbled dialogue over the barrel of a gun seem to do the trick.
Southcombe’s main achievement, beyond the leads (and great performances from Eddie Marsan and Hayley Atwell), is how he and cinematographer Ben Smithard capture London and its soulless Barbican tower blocks.
Southcombe’s script doesn’t always add up but, with this look and the lead duo, he’s twothirds of the way towards a solid modern noir.
Warner (301min, $39.95)
(M) Paramount (94min, $39.99)
(PG) Universal Sony (692min, $44.95)
(M) Disney (114min, $29.99)