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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Comedy-drama with mixed results

Author: Edward Lamberti from London, UK
12 September 2003

Emotional Backgammon is a relationship comedy-drama set in London. Cynical Steve (Leon Herbert) instructs sensitive John (Wil Johnson) in the scheming, manipulative world of women - principally, John's estranged girlfriend, Mary (Daniela Lavender). Meanwhile, her friends, led by Jane (Jacqueline De Peza), give her similarly ruthless advice about how to deal with men. It's a familiar premise for a movie, and one which Emotional Backgammon seizes enthusiastically. The results are very mixed, but this is a film worth seeing.

The idea of 'emotional backgammon', as rather strenuously outlined by Steve in the film's on-off narration, is a pretty laboured metaphor - and an awkward title for a film: it sounds more like a comedy theatrical piece. First-time director-co-writer-co-producer Herbert might have been better off had he dropped the explanation and let the title speak for itself.

And in spite of such an overly helpful framing device, the treatment of the characters remains ambivalent. John is warm-hearted and perceptive, and yet the film seems more ready to advocate Steve's colder, stereotypical opinions. And while the structure, which in effect cross-cuts between the men and the women, might be seeking to show a balanced view of gender relations, the ultimate impression is of a male-dominated piece which ultimately doesn't break any new thematic ground.

The tone of the movie, though, is consistent throughout, and the pace never flags. It's been shot on High Definition, more, one suspects, due to budgetary constraints than through choice, but it's done quite well: the images are clean and contemporaneous, even if at times there's enough lighting that they could have shot it in monochrome if they'd wanted to. And if the directing style is often too busy - the actors gesture too much, many of the camera angles are hyper and swoon-inducing - Herbert manages to stage two scenes in which the pain felt by characters is very raw. The first such moment is when Mary walks out, leaving John crumpled on the floor by the front door. As he remains huddled there, the camera holds the moment long enough for it to become uncomfortable - and compassionate. Much later, after Jane has had sex with one of Steve's friends in a piece of heartless calculation, her scream of dismay is truly piercing.

It's moments such as these, coupled with Herbert's own rather sombre screen presence, which suggest that this filmmaker has real talents. Emotional Backgammon is unsatisfying, then, and underwhelming, but it's got energy to spare.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Games people play

Author: mkz586 from United States
10 June 2005

Liked this movie as it had an interesting premise and lots of issues people can relate to. Thought the acting was good with a peek into London and it's various happenings. Definitely not boring and keeps you thinking about what will happen next.

The movie is about some friend in London and the games they play with the opposite sex. The plot revolves around love affairs and strategizing what you do as it relates to a game of backgammon. Revenge, desire, and love are key themes here with scenes mixing them all up at once. My favorite scene was when the two main characters were in the room planning and Steve talks about the juices flowing and the rivers of Babylon to a jazzy soundtrack. Cool movie coming from different angles than most with an offbeat tone to it.

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