Saturday, August 12, 2006

Alpha Male reviews a-plenty

Alan Frank, Daily Star (can't find this online):

Fine performances from a strong cast, headed by Danny Huston and Jennifer Ehle, add impact to a powerful drama about a fractured family forced to come to terms with their emotional traumas.

First time writer-director Dan Wilde can feel proud.


Allan Hunter, Daily Express (ditto):

A prodigal son's return prompts bitter memories and agonising soul searching in this stilted drama of the emotional turmoil that lies beneath a sea of stiff upper lips.

Danny Huston gives the movie's best performance as loving, quick-tempered father Jim. When he dies, his widow Alice (Jennifer Ehle) marries Clive (Patrick Baladi) and her children never quite forgive her.

The son's 21st birthday is the setting for old battles to be revisited and endless flashbacks to unfold but this lacks bite and it's difficult to accept 36-year-old Jennifer (Pride & Prejudice) Ehle as the mother of a strapping 21-year-old.

Anthony Quinn, The Independent:

*** A decent, thoughtfully written chamber piece on bereavement among the English well to-do. The first-time writer director Dan Wilde shuttles elegantly between the past and present of a family broken apart by the untimely death of a beloved parent (Danny Huston). Jennifer Ehle plays the widow who finds solace with a new partner (Patrick Baladi), thus alienating her brattish son (Mark Wells) and disturbing the fragile sanity of her daughter (Amelia Warner). The latter has to carry the minor but maddening symbolism of the screenplay (the collapse of a treehouse is less than convincingly staged) but shares an intriguing by-play with a sinister aunt (Trudi Styler, also the film's producer), about whose treachery she has kept quiet for years.

The robo-Sloane 21st-birthday party of the last act will test the sympathy threshold of certain viewers, but Wilde is bold enough to remind us that even spoilt brats can legitimately yearn for a mother's love.

David Edwards, Daily Mirror:

*** You may not have heard of Amelia Warner, but the young British actress is fast becoming a name to watch. Boasting classic good looks and with a exquisitely understated screen presence, I reckon the former Mrs Colin Farrell could be the new Keira Knightley.

She stars in this slow-burning drama about a brother and sister who go into meltdown following the death of their father.

On the surface, the Ferris family have it all. Dad Jim (Danny Huston) has made millions inventing a new type of food packaging and lives in a mansion with his wife (Jennifer Ehle) and two kids, Jack and Elyssa. But when he contracts a fatal disease, the children are unable to cope, their problems made worse when mum brings home a new boyfriend (Patrick Baladi, best known as David Brent's boss from The Office).

Elyssa ends up in a home after poisoning the dogs, while Jack does his best to make the new arrival feel as uncomfortable as possible. It all comes to an excruciating head a decade later when the family are reunited for Jack's 21st birthday party.

Alpha Male is a haunting look at family dysfunction that takes a long time to get going and, even then, doesn't go very far. Director Dan Wilde builds up a convincing, tense atmosphere but squanders it with an underwhelming climax that makes all that comes before feel like a bit of a con.

Still, at least the performances are mostly there. While Huston never looks entirely at ease, much better are Ehle and her grown-up children, played by Warner and Mark Wells. Overall, I suspect Alpha Male's natural home would be a Sunday night slot on BBC2 rather than a cinema.

Chris Tookey, Daily Mail:

Verdict: Worth no more than a beta minus
Alpha Male is a sluggish, tedious drama about an arrogant, ungrateful young man called Jack (Mark Wells) who, at the age of 21, still feels miffed that his packaging mogul father (Danny Huston) died when he was 12, whereupon his grieving mother (Jennifer Ehle) married a local widower artist.

Hamlet, this ain't. No attempt is made by director Dan Wilde to allow us to share the young man's suffering, and it's hard not to feel that his psychological problems arise from a reluctance on his part to grow up. In the meantime, Jack's sister (Amelia Warner, a beautiful young actress hitherto most famous for having been married to Colin Farrell for four whole months in 2001) appears stricken by grief for her dear dead dad, and spends much of her time trying to ingratiate herself with a local fox.

I'm pretty sure the fox is symbolic, but of what I can't be sure: being an outsider, suffering at the hands of the upper classes, or merely an inability to stay away from rubbish?

The characters spend a lot of time looking agonised and staring hopelessly into space. I did, too.

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

*** There could hardly be a more unfashionable topic for a new UK movie than the woes of the super-rich upper middle classes. Yet that is what the first-time British writer-director Dan Wilde has tried for. It's a difficult genre, susceptible to mockery and disdain and, yes, Wilde is a little too reliant on pregnant silences and a plangent piano score.

He doesn't have Julian Fellowes' sense of drama and pace. Nevertheless, it's an impressive debut. The story is about Alice (Jennifer Ehle) who remarries after the death of her wealthy husband Jim (Danny Huston), thus triggering anger and resentment in her children, pain which survives into their young adulthood. A self-conscious but bold and ambitious movie with intelligent ensemble work.

Tim Robey, Daily Telegraph:

Writer-director Dan Wilde's debut is a truly promising, albeit old-fashioned thing - a Chekhovian country-house drama that's skilfully played and quite moving. The death of packaging magnate Jim Ferris (Danny Huston) turns his family upside down, particularly when Alice (Jennifer Ehle, outstanding) meets a local widower and finds her son hardening against her. The structure isn't quite there, and several lurches into symbolism give you pause for doubt. But it's a surprisingly assured first film on the whole, and I think Wilde is going places.

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