Monday, September 22, 2014

Stoker (2013)

Film: Stoker (2013)
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver
Director: Park Chan-wook
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Nicole Kidman remains one of the most vitally interesting movie stars on the planet.  After she won her Oscar for The Hours, most people dismissed her in light of the creative misfires of Bewitched and The Stepford Wives, but the reality is that she has subsequently created some truly mesmerizing movies on-screen, frequently working with creative auteurs and totally deserving a second Oscar along the way.  She adds to every film that she's in, and is always a reason to seek out a movie.

(Spoilers Ahead) And she can add to a film that is itself a completely hot mess, which unfortunately Stoker is.  I saw the movie Saturday, the first English-language film directed by Park Chan-wook (whose Oldboy I had...complicated feelings for), and written by Wentworth Miller (yes, THAT Wentworth Miller), was a bitter disappointment after some truly creepy set-up and some great looking trailers.  The film is about a girl named India (Wasikowska) who has lost her father and is forced to live with her mother Evelyn (Kidman) and her previously unknown Uncle Charlie (Goode).

The film surely knows how to put in a solid set-up.  You see Uncle Charlie cleverly try to seduce Evelyn (successfully, as the film continues), while stifling all of the voices of reasons surrounding her.  There's a terrific scene about halfway through the movie where Jacki Weaver, playing a great aunt to India, has the good sense to go to a different hotel in town, all the while being tracked down by Charlie, who has great hollowness in his eyes as he kills her.  The scene is marvelously acted by Weaver (who adds marvelous moments to a very brief on-screen role), and is the sort of crisp, enigmatic we-learn-more-but-in-the-process-less-film acts I have encountered in a while.

Unfortunately, the movie cannot sustain this momentum, and the most obvious answers to the movie (that Uncle Charlie killed India's father and that he did it out of jealousy of his happy life) are in fact the correct ones.  No amount of theme-altering music and wide-eyed stares from Goode and Wasikowska are going to make me believe that India is going to shoot her mother instead of her uncle in the end, and the ending seems to not jive with the character onscreen.  India spends the final moments before she becomes her uncle on the road, murdering at will, killing a state trooper who had interviewed her earlier.  This is a moment that doesn't quite jive with the rest of her character, and left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Overall, the plot in the second half cost the movie a lot of points with me, but so did a few of the performances.  Goode is perfectly cast in theory, and again, the first half of the film works with him.  He's so handsome that you want to give him a metaphorical inch to see what he does with it, even if he might use it to murder you (there's a scene late in the movie where Kidman's Evelyn is caught between knowing he will kill her and potentially having sex with him, and she chooses the latter, and Goode's intense magnetism makes you believe that most people would have done the same in that situation).  He's not a particularly strong actor, though, so when he has to actually do something other than allure, I found him to be a bit out-of-his-league, and as the serial killer at the center of a mystery, that's an unforgivable blow to a movie.

Wasikowska, is a strong actor, but doesn't seem to know what to do with this film.  She was so good as a stoic, broken-down Jane Eyre a few years ago, but cannot do the same with India-she's too old in real life to appear so naive in the film, and her heightened senses trait adds nothing to the actual film (again-the script was not taut in the final thirty minutes).  She also is not a strong choice for a woman who is playing both a wallflower and a femme fatale.  She has the look down right for femme fatale when she needs it, but she doesn't have the confidence quite yet, and becomes too sheltered in her wallflower period of the movie, meaning both ends of the spectrum come across as hokey.  The entire film I was wondering where the girl who was so terrific in Jane Eyre was, and while I will continue to seek her out in the future, I am a little bit nervous that she may have just landed one truly great performance and cannot replicate it (we'll see-I'm hoping to hit Tracks in the coming weeks).

That said, Kidman is magnetic as her dragon mother.  This so easily could have descended into Joan Crawford-level camp, but Kidman keeps that just out of reach.  You slowly begin to have hatred for her, but never quite enough to push us into rooting for India-Evelyn's shallow, egotistical, and not a good person, but India appears to have made no efforts through the years to get to know her mother, and perhaps Evelyn is the only redeemable person on the screen.  It's a tricky tight-wire act to follow, and it takes an actress as principled as Kidman to keep it in-line.

Still, though, that's not enough to recommend this picture, which I don't, but perhaps you do?  If you're a fan of the movie, let me know why in the comments.  And wonder what sort of movie this would have been if we'd seen it from Kidman's or Jacki Weaver's eyes (I think it could have been more interesting, personally).

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