Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

Based on the novel by Philippa Gregory and directed by Justin Chadwick (Bleak House), The Other Boleyn Girl tells the story of Mary (Scarlett Johansson) and Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) and how they are thrust into the unstable and unforgiving world of Tudor politics by their father's desire for financial gain and their uncle's quest for power. Proceeding against the common sense and plainly thought notions of Lady Elizabeth Boleyn (Kristin Scott Thomas), Sir Thomas Boleyn (Mark Rylance) and his brother the Duke of Norfolk (David Morrissey) contrive to ensure that, at different times, one of the Boleyn daughters becomes the mistress to and hopefully produces an heir for King Henry VIII (Eric Bana), thus securing the Boleyn family a prominent and beneficial place in the monarchy.

This film falls comfortably between 'good' and 'very good'. Based on the stellar cast alone, I was anticipating an exceptional film but unexpected lulls, an uninspired performance and overall directorial issues effectively reduced a great movie to a good movie. The story, even when examined historically, offers enough fodder for a compelling experience and this version, based on a steamy pseudo-fictionalized account, really should have increased the account exponentially. Unfortunately, the story only remains moderately compelling and most of the steam has evaporated leaving that kind of sticky feeling. In my opinion, the fault lies completely with the director, Chadwick. I don't want to be too hard on the guy, being that this is Chadwick's first big screen gig and all (he directed Bleak House which was awesome), but I felt he never really pushed the intensity factor, in the story or with certain character interactions, that could have made this film feel like a ride in a fast car with questionable breaks. Instead, I think he tried to reach a certain level, and then keep the film hovering at that spot for the duration. Also I felt he failed to use Eric Bana as a proper Henry VIII. Everyone thinks of Henry as a boisterous guy who knew what he liked and was absolutely thrilled about it and if something displeased him, everybody knew about it, because he made sure of it. Bana's Henry is rather low key and quiet and apparently channels all of his intensity through his eyes, leaving him to stalk around the movie looking like David Copperfield after making the Statue of Liberty disappear. Now don't get me wrong, Bana had his moments, he just wasn't what I would think the average, remotely familiar with history, person would expect. My final issue with the directing, and this may just be one of my personal nit-picks, was Chadwick's habit of filming through objects. Almost all, or, at least a fair amount, of the scenes opened with a shot through something, like a fence, or a grating, or some bars, or framed in a doorway with hanging curtains or really just about anything you could conceive to look through. I remember making a similar observation about Elizabeth: The Golden Age, except in that film, it was cool - the shots were used sparingly and gave the impression that the audience was eavesdropping on the characters in the movie. In this film those types of shots serve no purpose and once they are noticed, they become kind of annoying. After a while, I tried to make the best of it by guessing what the next shot would be through, but that's just me.

Enough complaining. Johansson was great and Portman was completely off the chart. It was great to see Portman work a devious and manipulating character to the hilt, however, in my opinion, by ignoring history and allowing Anne to succumb to her emotions before becoming shorter, the filmmakers missed a marvelous opportunity for Portman to truly shine. (It's also too bad that Anne didn't have someone like Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez to guide her, but that would have been a completely different story. Cool, but different.) I should also mention that Kristin Scott Thomas was excellent, as well, only she should have had more screen time. In fact, all of the performances were more than adequate (even Bana's at certain moments) including all of the supporting players, but I do think Portman's performance made the movie worth seeing - I'm just not sure it would be a theater experience for everyone. However, if you're a fan of well dressed period pieces and don't mind having the cast far outbalance the story, then, in a few months, this will be the a perfect Sunday afternoon rental.

No comments: