Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

Film: My Cousin Rachel (2017)
Stars: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger
Director: Roger Michell
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

Is anyone else feeling 2017 as a dull film year as much as I am?  I don't think, genuinely, in my entire film-watching life I have seen so few movies in a six month period.  I literally have only gone to the movies by myself once to a 2017 release, and that's psychotic when you consider it's usually a weekly event for me.  The reality is, though, that between a couple of colds (I managed to get both of my office cold seasons this year-usually I manage to miss one of them), and a flummoxing lack of films in theaters that demanded I get out of my apartment, I just have had the drive to get to the movies.  This was even true for a moment for My Cousin Rachel, a picture that I ended up seeing on Father's Day, but is good but completely trodden material.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film itself is not only a book, but also a remake, a film that launched Richard Burton to Hollywood stardom and extended Olivia de Havilland's reign at the movies for a bit (she largely disappeared from Hollywood in the 1950's).  This movie won't be doing the same for Sam Claflin, but it is a film rife with sexual desire and interesting observations, even if it is far too long and occasionally lacking a clear perspective.

The movie's greatest asset is its rich source material.  Few writers are better able to tap into our fear of the unknown quite like Daphne du Maurier, who also penned Hitchcock's Rebecca and The Birds, and here we have a protagonist that's too easy to figure out and one who is impossible to unwrap.  Indeed, Philip (Claflin), has inherited a large estate and fortune from his cousin, who has taken care of him since he was a wee boy, but also is going to soon be seeing his wife Rachel (Weisz), who also happens to be a cousin to them both, and of whom he suspects foul play, because his cousin has accused her of such, even though he was purported to be mad toward the end of his life.

The film unfolds with Philip falling desperately in love, and perhaps more critically in lust, with Rachel, even though he knows that she may have murdered his beloved cousin and could in fact be trying to steal the fortune from him as well.  The film's finest attribute is this weird balance between the two, and they aren't shy about the sexual politics of their relationship.  Oedipus himself may wince at some of the scenes in the film, as Weisz, 17 years Claflin's elder in real life, leans into the maternal aspects of her seduction of young Philip.  The film isn't shy about sexual politics, never really showing what Rachel truly desires (was it young Philip, or elder Philip, or money, or her gay friend...or was she a beard for the gay friend and elder Philip, who had always detested the company of women previously?).  This results in a nasty bit of theoretical conniving toward the end, but du Maurier's books are too complex for her simply to be using Phlip, and we never know if Rachel is just calculating for a fortune or if she, after watching her husband die, is trying to find a way to make peace with the only other man he loved, and is then scared for her life when Young Philip behaves the same way.  Ultimately the not knowing is half of the fun of the movie (I personally want to say she did it, if only because it makes the most sense in her attitudes toward Philip later in the picture), but it's the rare ambiguous ending that doesn't feel like a cheat-it works within the story.

Still, though, the film lacks perspective and is off-handedly directed by Michell.  While the source material is good enough that it's quite impossible to completely mess-up, he stretches scenes that have no point, the film feels overlong, and weirdly shot; there are needless closeups when some distance toward Rachel might have added to her mystique.  Weisz is her usual excellent self here, and Claflin is serviceable, but he doesn't have the emotional heft to sink into some of the rougher and baser aspects of his Young Philip.  They're too old for the role now, but one wonders what a Charlie Hunnam or James McAvoy might have done with this part if given the chance.

Still, this is the rare movie I actually got to in the theaters this year, so it deserves applause just for that.  If you have seen My Cousin Rachel (it's done relatively well for an art house picture), share your thoughts in the comments!  If not-what do you think of the 2017 year in general, and what must-see films am I missing?  Share below!

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