An American girl inherits a fortune and falls into a misguided relationship with a gentleman confidence artist whose true nature, including a barbed and covetous disposition, turns her life into a nightmare.
A mute woman along with her young daughter, and her prized piano, are sent to 1850s New Zealand for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, and she's soon lusted after by a local worker on the plantation.
Isabel Archer, an American heiress and free thinker travels to Europe to find herself. She tactfully rebuffs the advances of Caspar Goodwood, another American who has followed her to England. Her cousin, Ralph Touchett, wise but sickly becomes a soulmate of sorts for her. She makes an unfortunate alliance with the creepy Madame Merle who leads her to make an even more unfortunate alliance with Gilbert Osmond, a smooth but cold collector of Objets' de art who seduces her with an intense but unattainable sexuality. Isabel marries Osmond only to realize she's just another piece of art for his collection and that Madame Merle and Osmond are lovers who had hatched a diabolical scheme to take Isabel's fortune. Isabel's only comfort is the innocent daughter of Osmond, Pansy, but even that friendship is spoiled when Countess Gemini, Osmond's sister, reveals the child's true parentage. Isabel finally breaks free of Osmond and returns to Ralph's bedside, where, while breathing his last, they ... Written by
Teresa B. <O'Donnell@worldnet.att.net>
How can Henry James' novella "Turn Of The Screw" swallow me in whole while I find his other work wordy and arrogant? And how can the same director that has made the two most boring movies I have ever seen, "Two Friends" and this one, also be the same person behind "Sweetie" and "Holy Smoke" - the two finest examples of a movie drawing real characters in real places I have ever seen? This film left me in a state of semi-paralysis.
Being a fan of slow-paced, foreign, and period piece movies, I was pretty surprised at how much this movie bored me. I'm writing this review to try to sort out my feelings of bewilderment.
I think one problem is the use of John Malkovich. We've seen him soar to great heights in the paradoxical "Being John Malkovich" and "The Glass Menagerie", but here his monotone is overly droll and predictable, almost as if he is playing off himself in a Saturday Night Live sketch. In fact the most enjoyable part of this movie was the scene where Mr. Malkovich twirls the umbrella in an ambiguously literal attempt to hypnotize Isabel. If only there were more of these elements in the film....
Then there's Nicole Kidman, whose underachieving attempts at acting has managed to ruin films by not one but two of the greats: Ms. Campion and Stanley Kubrick. Her delivery was similar to Gwyneth Paltrow's in "Mr. Ripley" -- obviously lost. She's just another pretty face thrown into a role of substance after receiving excessive amounts of hype. Watching them act gives me the same feeling I get watching the members of Milli Vanilli try to sing. In their element, they can be undeniably sexy or cute, but in deeper roles the viewer is left completely clueless to their characters' motives. Is Isabel supposed to be docile, alluring, witty, in-control, charismatic, or not-in-control? We can't tell.
In this mess, Barbara Hershey and Martin Donovan as the sickly cousin were both very good. But alongside the weak link Kidman there was little they could do. And Campion made some extremely unusual stylistic sidetracks, the very sidetracks that work in the Holy Smoke India scenes. But in a period piece the fading dream suitors, inexplicable intro, and Chaplin filters seemed inappropriate, although one has to admire her for trying. Even when I don't agree with her methods I respect her sense of adventure (but let's face it, I'll love her forever because of Sweetie). With a little more humility from Campion, a different Isabel, and a more invigorated Malkovich this film might have worked.
For a good treatment of James, try to scare up a copy of the 1961 film The Innocents.
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