Sunday, September 13, 2009

TIFF 2009 reviews: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

When was the last time you heard an audience applaud a plot twist? Been a while for me, actually I'm kinda stuck to remember witnessing that...ever. The identity of Keyzer Soze, Dil having a dork...shock indeed, but not cheers and clapping. That did happen, however, during the premiere of The Disappearance of Alice Creed. The movie's not quite as brilliant as all that, but it's still a solid piece of suspense filmmaking, one of the few thrillers of recent decades in which the term "Hitchcockian" isn't inappropriately applied. Three people in one apartment, and two big reveals that more or less form the dividing lines between acts are the basic elements that let the movie serve as a definitely above-average genre exercise.

This was one of the movies I chose entirely for the cast. On one hand you've got Gemma Arterton, who was quite the knockout as one Strawberry Fields in the last Bond flick (she's the one who gets drowned in crude oil post Bond-boff), and on the other you've got Eddie Marsan, who rocketed into the arthouse consciousness as the short-fused driving instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky last fall. There is a third hand here, a young Scotsman by the name of Martin Compston, but I didn't know anything about him going in. Anyway, if nothing else I figured we'd be in for an evening of solid British performance intensity even if the storyline sounded a bit too torture-porn for me.

To his credit, debut director J Blakeston (yeah, that's "J" with no period, like Harry S Truman or Homer Jay Simpson) acknowledged the TP-word early on and pointed out that just when the audience thinks that we're in for Roth Redux, he pointedly turns back from the brink. Blakeston seems a smart guy, with an oddly Tarantino-esque backstory (writer for hire, wrote something deliberately small-scale so that he could shoot it for next to nothing until he lucked into financing) and he won me over in his introduction by saying something I've been waiting years to hear from a visiting filmmaker or actor: it's his first time to TIFF, he absolutely loves it and he's going to come back. Which may seem like your basic audience flattery, but the fact is, while the bigwigs do love to come to town during our annual three weeks of good weather and appreciate the good audiences, they tend to race off to Pearson once the required velvet rope bash and Sassafraz lunch are done with. Blakeston is the first guest who's expressed genuine fandom (okay, actually, I'm remembering Jon Hewitt last year, who attended a whole whack of Midnight Madness shows besides his own, so there's two), plus he comes across as a weird combination of Jim Parsons and Billy Corgan, so he didn't have a hard time winning over the crowd with his enthusiasm.

So anyway, pretty solid thriller, twisty and surprising, good performances...didn't set my mind on fire, but you could do a lot worse. And I swear, I am dying for a light frothy comedy right around this point. An Education was sweet, but the four I've seen since have been mature and serious at best, intense and opresive at worst. Mercifully today I've Israeli/Russian revenge thirller. Le sigh. (***)

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