Monday, August 21, 2006

"Excels", "one of her best performances"

Warwick Arts Center reviews Alpha Male:
Shot partly through flashback sequences this is a film for fans of Stephen Poliakoff or those who enjoyed the film Separate Lies (2005).

Father Jim Ferris is the archetypal 'alpha male' so his sudden illness and death come as a profound shock to his family leaving them stunned and adrift.

Jack, Jim's son, turns 21 and is pressured to come home to celebrate, but in a climax of mounting tension old wounds are reopened and everything that has been simmering for so long comes to a head.

Jennifer Ehle is fantastic in one of her best performances since BBC TV's Pride and Prejudice.

"Disconcertingly satisfying" Empire

Nina Caplan, Metro :

Danny Huston is certainly an Alpha Male, so you can't help feeling sorry when his wealthy entrepreneur character swiftly dies, leaving a beta wife and a couple of hacked-off children to wallow around in this zeta script.

Alice (Jennifer Ehle) remarries a pretty but limp widower, her daughter Elyssa goes mildly batty, while repressed young Jack takes his misery out on the reluctant stepfather.

All of which is told in intermittent flashback, with all the elegance and sensitivity of a champagne cork popping at a funeral.

David Clack, Film Exposed:

With his first feature film, writer/director Dan Wilde explores the impact of bereavement upon an upper-middle class family, with focus on the consequent breakdown of relationships that results upon the death of the patriarch. As the title suggests, the burden of the masculine role with which the fatherless Jack (Wells) struggles is key to the narrative. Wilde projects his story across two planes of time, skipping between past and present in an attempt to glean greater insight into the long-term effects of family loss. Tensions peak when Jack reluctantly returns to the family for his 21st birthday party, forcing him to confront his estranged mother and unaccepted stepfather.

There's an undeniable sense of foreboding one feels upon settling down to a directorial debut, since the likelihood of enduring trite mediocrity outweighs that of discovering inaugural genius. Add to this feeling of doomed anticipation an unimaginative plot in an over-familiar setting and it becomes difficult to enjoy Alpha Male from the outset. The story ticks lazily over before glossing all too quickly over the crucial death of father and wealthy provider Jim Ferris (Huston). Jennifer Ehle excels as widowed Alice Ferris, arguably the film's most demanding role. Excellent too are Arthur Duncan and Katie Knight as the young Jack and Elyssa, whose performances outshine their elder, brattish counterparts.

Here lies Alpha Male's major flaw. Through a combination of Wilde's overly simple script and Mark Wells' unnecessarily obnoxious portrayal of main character Jack, it becomes incredibly difficult to care whether this struggling family can reassemble itself. Audience apathy is enhanced further by the apparent lack of effort by any single character to communicate with any other, resulting in not only a screen full of unsympathetic characters, but also what seems like an eternity of awkward and silent pauses.

That said, Wilde's cinematography is constantly competent and occasionally excellent; the aforementioned moments of silence are emphasised through regular use of close-ups, which, when juxtaposed against the many long shots of the family's mansion help to emphasise the distance between the characters. Sadly, however, this textbook approach to filmmaking isn't enough to draw the viewer into the fundamentally flawed story.

Although at times entertaining and by no means a write-off, Alpha Male is undoubtedly most useful to Wilde himself. With a little more time spent on screenplay development, perhaps next time this promising young director can appease the audiences who found his characters ineffectual and his story bland. Certainly, his technical ability shows promise and whilst some may argue that a picture paints a thousand words, Wilde relies all too heavily on graphic matches and facial expressions to plug the holes in his helplessly leaky script.

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