Friday, August 18, 2006

Now for something completely different

Alpha Male reviews, what else. Bit of a mixed bag.

Mike Cahill, Sunday Telegraph:

The week's other British release finds playwright-turned-director Dan Wilde content to drearily recycle riffs from recent American independent cinema. A party thrown by yummy mummy Jennifer Ehle for her ingrate son brings together remnants of a well-to-do family who clearly have Secrets to be Uncovered and Ghosts to be Laid to Rest before the end credits can run. Stephen Warbeck's plinky-plonky piano score threatens to turn into Lionel Richie's 'Hello', while ineptly handled flashbacks prompt a lot of staring into the middle distance.

At no point are we given reason to care. Previous group hugs of this type went under such convoluted names as The Substance of Fire (1996) and The Myth of Fingerprints (1998). Alpha Male is far too chest-beating a title for a film this deathly; better if it were called something like 'The Inertness of Things' or 'The Probability of Sleep'.

Carol Allen, Close Up Film:

This is a very accomplished piece of work from first time feature writer/director Wilde. The "Alpha Male" of the title is Danny Huston as Jim, husband of Alice (Jennifer Ehle) and father of Jack and Elyssa. The film is about the effect on the family when Jim unexpectedly dies and how they deal with it and either move on or fail to.

The structure of the film is particularly interesting, interweaving the past, when Jim was alive and the immediate aftermath of his death, and the present, in which grown up Jack (Wells) returns home for his twenty first birthday, having cut himself off from his family because of his resentment at his mother's remarriage. The two time periods successfully illuminate and inform each other. It is a device which could have been confusing but through the use of clever editing and well thought out visual clues it is always clear exactly where we are in the story's chronology.

Danny Huston is perfect as Jim, all reassuring warmth, strength, and authority, so it is really painful to watch him when he becomes ill and the strain of things like giving his daughter Elyssa a piggy back ride is beginning to show. Like the family we miss him when he is gone. The performances however are good throughout, including the children; Arthur Duncan very self assured as Young Jack and Katie Knight as young Elyssa, who becomes very disturbed after the death of her father. Ehle is quietly moving in her grief and there's an impressive performance from Jemma Powell as adult Jack’s “wild child” girlfriend, accurately described by one character as “looks fun, like a fast car” . The psychology of the characters rings true, as when Young Elyssa witnesses a seduction attempt on her father by Alice's lonely and bitter sister Brede (Trudi Styler, who also produced the film) and keeps it inside her as a festering secret, while Young Jack’s arguments with his mother's new partner Clive (Patrick Baladi) are icily articulate. Towards the end the film softens into a rather American style feelgood sentimentality in its reconciliatory resolution and there is a somewhat clunky scene between adult Elyssa (Amelia Warner) and the rather solid ghost of her father, which strikes a bit of a false note. Overall however this is a mature and thoughtful film and even though Huston has comparatively little screen time, his memory dominates the film, as it does the family.

Henry Fitzherbert, The Express on Sunday:

A strong performance from Jennifer Ehle is the only redeeming feature of Alpha Male, a dull domestic drama, contained entirely within the walls of a country house. It unfurls, at a funereal pace, the issues of an entirely uninteresting family group.

The major conflict, a priggish son's resentment at his mother's remarriage, is not explored in any meaningful or revealing way. There is not enough here to sustain a short play, let alone a movie.

Jeff Sawtell, Political Affairs ("Marxist thought online"...!):

A crass champagne class tragedy is summed up by one character stating: "You live in a mansion and you've a fortune built of selling recyclable plastic cartoons, so what's your problem?"

Precisely. Despite the excellent acting, we're supposed to believe that a couple of rich kids can't get it together because their dear darling daddy has kicked the bucket, leaving them all living in clover. Oh dear.

Guardian user review:

A little slow and some strange editing but it settles down into an absorbing piece. Trudie Styler is better than you would expect and David Baldacci shines as the second husband. And one emotional scene that stays this side of mawkish.

And a couple more DVD lenders have it: ITV Movie Club and Easy Cinema.

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