IT’S A SOUTHERN Gothic drama (brilliantly directed fourty years ago by Don Siegel with Clint Eastwood in the lead) that holds great promise: set in the Deep South during the American civil war, a wounded Yankee soldier has been separated from his platoon and is discovered, barely alive, by a young girl. She’s a pupil of a genteel Ladies’ boarding school, ensconced somewhere in the woods of rural Mississippi. And so, having taken pity on him, into this oasis of starched, vestal purity, comes this predatory man… a Northerner in a Confederate world; a wolf among sheep.

His recumbent, half naked sexuality and his aura of danger and the forbidden, lights the spark of desire in the breasts of his tightly laced, repressed rescuers. These souls of girlish purity long for the taint of his corruption; and become beguiled by his rakish ways. Until jealousy, armed with an adze of amputation has its way with him.

It would seem though from this anemic, insipid interpretation that director Sofia Coppola (“Marie Antoinette”) is having none of that. None of the raw, untamable passions of writer Thomas Cullinan’s novel. None of the sly seductions as Corporal McBurney (a dull as dishwater Colin Farrell, who seems to have grown out of his youthful bad boy charisma) samples the morsels of innocence. The central theme of “passion constrained” has been neutered of its sexuality and reframed as a carefully, meticulously storyboarded, bloodless lecture on deception and empowerment.

As the school’s headmistress, Miss Farnsworth, Coppola laces up the icy sexiness of Nicole Kidman so tightly that all we’re left with is the ice. There is no chemistry between her and Farrell. Nor for that matter is there much chemistry between Farrell and any of the other ‘objects of desire’ in Miss Farnsworth’s seminary (Kristen Dunst and Elle Fanning). It’s as though each of them were shot separately against blue screen and edited together in the final mix, the way they edit the voices in animated movies.

It is interesting to compare the female’s (Coppola’s) take on the story with the male’s (Siegel’s.) For Siegel, the Corporal’s symbolic emasculation and fatal comeuppance (that look of shock on Clint Eastwood’s face as he realizes the truth) was one of shuddering horror. For Coppola, it is one of moral triumph.

They’re both valid interpretations. But Siegel’s “horror” bristled with emotion; Coppola’s moral triumph fails to get the heart beating. That said, kudos to Ms. Coppola: many of the crew (production designer, editor, composers etc are women). And that’s an all too rare thing.


THE BEGUILED. Dir: Sofia Coppola. With Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell. Screenplay: Sofia Coppola (adapting Albert Maltz’ screenplay from the book by Thomas Cullinan). Cinematographer: Phillippe Le Sourd (“Seven Pounds”). Production Designer: Anne Ross (“Going in Style”)



The Two Faces of January: Look Away

Two faces


“THE TWO FACES of January” is a nonsensical B movie non-thriller that at least lives up to its name: one face displays the style and period clothes (it’s set in 1962) of a high concept mystery. The other reveals its truer self: a badly written made-for-video movie with brand name stars (Viggo Mortensen as con-man Chester; Kirsten Dunst as Colette, his clueless wife and Oscar Isaac, so good as Llewin Davis as Rydal, an American drifter and part time tourist guide)

The said two faces refer to Viggo’s Chester and Llewin’s Rydal. Chester we discover is on the run (somewhere in sun-drenched Greece) having fleeced gullible investors back in the US. By chance he encounters Rydal – another American and as the story labours to point out, a mini version of himself, engaged in small-time hustles of unsuspecting tourists.

They’re two sides of the same coin. Get it?

It’s when a private investigator turns up at his hotel and is accidentally killed by Chester that on the run turns into sweaty flight.

Chester and Colette leave the hotel hurriedly without first reclaiming their passports (Huh? Why not simply check out?). Thank goodness they have the assistance of Rydal who, though he doesn’t know them, helps Chester stash the dead PI (who he thinks is just a drunk that Chester is simply helping like any Good Samaritan would). He then locates a friend who happens to make forged passports. (Hey anyone would do that for a passing stranger. No questions asked.) As for wife, Colette, she’s just too oh so full of bubbly spirit, to actually either notice or care what’s happening until the penny finally drops half way through the movie, after which point her expression shifts from giddy delight to perplexity.

But these are important expressions, call them facial tics. They won the heart of Rydal. Who’d have thunk it? This callow hustler dumped a beautiful and wealthy ‘find’, sourced the forged passports and decided to go on the lam with her and Chester because he’d fallen in love. How touching.

Now maybe I’ve seen too many B movies, but the first rule of running from the law is to change your look. Especially when your face is front-page news. But Chester is as dumb a blonde as his wife and he insists on wearing the same cream-coloured I-am-a-foreigner-on-holiday suit throughout.

Which leads to various chases in dark alleys accompanied by the quivering violins of composer Alberto Iglesias (a famous name who’s composed for some famous movies such as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “The Constant Gardner”).

At least we can be thankful that the movie’s short: it comes in at just 90 minutes or so.

Seems director Hossein Amini himself (writer of other masterworks such as “Snow White and the Huntsman” “47 Ronin” and “Drive”) realized, like his characters, he too needed to cut bait and run.