Stay­ing alive… just

Ger­ald Aaron on an over-com­pli­cated fan­tasy about im­mor­tal­ity and a pow­er­ful por­trait of an amoral African mer­ce­nary

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS & BOOKS -

The Foun­tain (12A)

Dar­ren Aronof­sky earns points for try­ing, even if, in the fi­nal anal­y­sis, he does not re­ally suc­ceed in pulling off his vis­ually daz­zling, meta­phys­i­cally clouded fan­tasy about one man’s quest for im­mor­tal­ity so that noth­ing — even death — can part him from his beloved.

An easy-to-fol­low, lin­ear nar­ra­tive from the di­rec­tor of Pi and Re­quiem for a Dream was ob­vi­ously un­likely. In­stead, what we get is three in­ter­re­lated, in­ter­wo­ven sto­ry­lines. In the present, doc­tor Tommy Creo (Hugh Jack­man) des­per­ately fights to find a cure that will save his wife Is­abel (Rachel Weisz) who is dy­ing of can­cer.

In 16th-cen­tury Spain, con­quis­ta­dor To­mas (Jack­man) seeks the leg­endary Foun­tain of Youth at the be­hest of his beloved Queen Isabella (Weisz) while, in the 26th cen­tury, shaven-headed astro­naut Tom (Jack­man again) sails through space in a gi­ant bub­ble seek­ing an­swers to mil­len­nium-long mys­ter­ies.

Con­fused? Aronof­sky’s com­plex screen­play and stylish di­rec­tion do not go out of their way to en­lighten you. If there’s a mes­sage (for all I know, there is not one, and even if there is, I may well have got hold of the wrong one), it is prob­a­bly summed up in Jack­man’s line, “Death is a dis­ease like any other and there’s a cure. And I will find it”.

None­the­less, there is much to en­joy — more on a vis­ceral than on an in­tel­lec­tual level.

The im­agery (Matthew Li­ba­tique’s at­mo­spheric cin­e­matog­ra­phy is a con­sid­er­able as­set) is fre­quently as­ton­ish­ing; Jack­man and Weisz ac­quit them­selves com­mend­ably; and Aronof­sky’s stag­ing of vi­o­lent ac­tion in­volv­ing blood­thirsty an­cient Mayan war­riors suc­ceeds in hit­ting hard with­out de­scend­ing to the sadis­tic level of Apoca­lypto. Blood Di­a­mond (15)

For­tu­nately Leonardo DiCaprio’s laugh­ably bad South African ac­cent (or, to be pedan­tic, Zim­bab­wean ac­cent) does not de­tract from his pow­er­ful por­trait of amoral mer­ce­nary-cum-di­a­mond smug­gler Danny Archer.

He is ob­sessed with gain­ing pos­ses­sion of a priceless di­a­mond hid­den by poor fish­er­man Solomon Vandy (Dji­mon Hon­sou) dur­ing the hor­rific 1990s Civil War in Sierra Leone in ex­change for help­ing Vandy find his son, who has been forcibly drafted as a boy sol­dier by the revo­lu­tion­ary forces.

Di­rec­tor Ed­ward Zwick main­tains a fast nar­ra­tive pace and uses well­cho­sen African lo­ca­tions to add verisimil­i­tude.

Thanks to Charles Leav­itt’s strong screen­play, there is an ef­fec­tive bal­ance be­tween pulse-rac­ing ac­tion, sear­ing sus­pense, sham­ing scenes of the bru­tal ex­ploita­tion of the in­no­cent and the story’s dis­turb­ing moral cen­tre — the rape of a coun­try’s riches for the ben­e­fit of the heart­less few.

DiCaprio’s amoral sol­dier-of-for­tune is his finest per­for­mance to date (bet­ter, even, than The De­parted). Hon­sou matches him in in­ten­sity and con­vic­tion.

Jen­nifer Con­nelly, as the ide­al­is­tic Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Maddy Bowen who comes to Sierra Leone to ex­pose high-level com­plic­ity in the bloody trade in di­a­monds and dou­bles as DiCaprio’s love in­ter­est, gives a con­vinc­ingly three-di­men­sional per­for­mance in a role that could eas­ily have been sim­ply a ci­pher.

Blood Di­a­mond is not easy to watch — Zwick rightly pulls no punches in il­lus­trat­ing the bloody bru­tal­ity of the revo­lu­tion­ary forces — but it is ex­cit­ing epic-ad­ven­ture en­ter­tain­ment whose thought-pro­vok­ing mes­sage needs to be de­liv­ered. Venus (15)

Sev­en­tysome­thing ac­tor Mau­rice (Peter O’Toole) is dy­ing, lit­er­ally, on his feet as he con­tin­ues to work, play­ing “a corpse, more or less” in a TV pro­duc­tion and then a pe­riod fop in a fea­ture film.

Keep­ing him alive is his love (and sub­li­mated lust) for young and feisty Jessie (Jodie Whi­taker), the grand­niece of his testy el­derly ac­tor friend Ian (Les­lie Philips).

You do not of­ten see a (nec­es­sar­ily chaste) ro­mance be­tween two peo­ple with 50 years be­tween them. O’Toole’s splen­didly con­ceived and played char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion (he does the full luvvie and does it beau­ti­fully) is Os­car-wor­thy.

Whi­taker makes an im­pres­sively con­vinc­ing screen de­but and is like­able, even at the char­ac­ter’s most ir­ri­tat­ing mo­ments — of which there are many — while Phillips poignantly plays against his familiar play­boy per­sona.

Even if you didn’t know it was a Chan­nel 4 film, you might guess from the pro­lif­er­a­tion of foul lan­guage in Hanif Kureishi’s screen­play which, like his pre­vi­ous Chan­nel 4 of­fer­ing, the over­rated The Mother, was di­rected by Roger Michell. Venus suc­ceeds splen­didly as a star ve­hi­cle, no­tably for O’Toole, de­spite Kureishi’s not en­tirely con­vinc­ing, ul­ti­mately de­press­ing med­i­ta­tion on the na­ture of love and the painful im­per­ma­nence of life.

Rachel Weisz as 16th-cen­tury Span­ish Queen Isabella in The Foun­tain

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