Wealthy, brilliant, and meticulous Ted Crawford, a structural engineer in Los Angeles, shoots his wife and entraps her lover. He signs a confession; at the arraignment, he asserts his rights to represent himself and asks the court to move immediately to trial. The prosecutor is Willy Beachum, a hotshot who's soon to join a fancy civil-law firm, told by everyone it's an open and shut case. Crawford sees Beachum's weakness, the hairline fracture of his character: Willy's a winner. The engineer sets in motion a clockwork crime with all the objects moving in ways he predicts. Written by
This is a most successful thriller. In terms of performances, the most outstanding is certainly by Rosamund Pike. She has made a big impression in Britain by appearing in classic television dramas, at which she has a natural talent, and for which she is suited without expending a great deal of effort. Here, however, she shows what stuff she is really made of. She delivers an impeccable noir performance in the very best 1940s-1950s Hollywood style, and if the opportunities were frequent enough, she could readily establish a niche for herself as a chilling lead femme fatale in countless big budget films. She has a cold, distant, exquisite beauty, a perfect neck. and eyes like dark mirrors with disturbing supernatural qualities. Because she is a bit of an intellectual offscreen, well-read and bookish, she has the intelligence to put a brooding mystery into her gaze, and is best at doing this as someone powerful or knowledgeable. She also knows how to convince us that she may be off her rocker, simply by wobbling her irises. She would not make a good 'Big Brother' participant, and could not successfully play an oaf, I daresay. (Oafs are in big demand these days, and Ryan Gosling plays one, appearing not to be able to hold a fork properly at dinner.) Pike should team up with Audrey Tautou ('the Elf'), as Pike-and-Elf would be an irresistible combo on screen, as their big eyes full of mysterious things would go so well together, and they would enhance one another. As for the rest of the film, there is also Embeth Davidtz, a fascinating actress who made such an impression in the admirable 'Junebug' (2005), and it is such a shame for such a beautiful creature to get shot so soon in the story. One weakness of the story is the total lack of back-story, and why a man old enough to be Davidtz's grand-father happens to be her husband, but I guess if you are determined to cast Anthony Hopkins, you just have to close your eyes and go ahead. The acting of Hopkins has improved immeasurably since the days when he was so mannered and chewed so many of his words that he drove me crazy, and I found him one of the world's most irritating actors. He has somehow miraculously purged himself of all those terrible acting faults he used to have, and now plays it straight, with a terrifying intensity of an 'in your face' challenge. At last, Anthony Hopkins has come of age, and about time, too. Finally, he has become the master of his craft that everyone wrongly imagined him to be earlier. (Maybe this is a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Shall we grant him retrospective absolution for his technical sins in so many earlier films?) Ryan Gosling is, I suppose, very good at playing his unsympathetic and arrogant character, and it works, but just by a whisker. Kramer Morgenthau as the cinematographer has come out of television and has been having fun playing with light on a big budget. He gets a lot of interesting shots by sunlight at an angle, and well done for that. He avoids the worst perils of excessively dark shots which have been so fashionable in recent years (as irritating as actors who insist on mumbling), so that when he shoots dark shots, which he does repeatedly and too much, they are not as irritating as in most contemporary films, because he somehow redeems himself for these excesses by a sensitivity to light which just saves him, time and time again. He is a natural-born tightrope walker. The director Gregory Hoblit has also come out of television and proved effortlessly that he is a very good big budget director, no prob. The story by Daniel Pyne and screenplay by Pyne and Glenn Gers are most ingenious and top quality, although lacking in wisecracks and witty asides, and hence a shade too earnest. (Try to pepper your next script with some spicy one-liners next time, fellas. Watch some old movies and learn how it is done.) There are two central enigmas to this story, and I was so pleased with myself that I figured them both out (the missing gun riddle and a legal point). However, you have to have seen a lot of thrillers before you can hope to do that. This really is a nail-biter, a first-rate mystery and a modern noir classic.
20 of 36 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?