Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: Stoker

If you have never heard of Chan-wook Park, then you should do a Google search and take a look at his filmography.  The South Korean director is a master of suspense in the way everyone mistakenly thought that M. Night Shyamalan would become on the heels of the Sixth Sense, only Park has a strong sense of visual flair and a disciplined directorial approach that makes even the most mundane act explode with life onscreen.  He’s that good.  The film Stoker represents his first foray into “mainstream” Hollywood (though one would hardly dub “Stoker” mainstream) and the result is a suspenseful highly stylized narrative that feels slice of life but proves to be something else altogether.

The narrative tells the story of India (played by Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who is mourning the passing of her father.  When her uncle Charlie – a man she has never heard of before, comes to live with her and her mother (Nicole Kidman), it unlocks a bevy of conflicting feelings for India against the backdrop of violence and sexual innuendo that ultimately leads to the revelation of a dark family secret.

As you watch the plot of the movie unfold, you realize that visually you are watching a master at work.  The attention to detail, the subtlety, the sound, the framing of the shot, it becomes apparent that all these elements are coming together to tell the story; that each piece is contributing to the tension as much as the dialogue and grandiose action undertaken by the actors.  At times it feels the attention to visual detail and to the minutiae are bringing the plot to a plodding place, but as the scenes unfold you realize Park is slow playing his hand – suffocating you in the way the reality of the film suffocates the protagonists.  If I were critiquing this film based on directorial efforts alone, it would be an unmitigated A.

Unfortunately, the film falls apart for me in the third act.  Without spoiling the plot, it’s hard not to feel that the climax and subsequent reveal fall short of this masterful taut narrative that Park has brought to a boil.  The blame for this has to fall on writer Wentworth Miller as his script proves to be more a house of cards than a sound taut thriller, tumbling under its own weight.  At the precise moment that the film should explode with large reveals and some sort of cathartic release, it goes out with the whimper that is predictability.  Sadly, that makes Park’s directorial clinic seem largely for naught.

Mia Wasikowska (as India) turns in a solid lead performance.  It’s a character that falls right into her comfort zone; one who is offbeat and troubled.  It’s not easy to sell a story that is set in this sort of timeless world with no signature to define its context in the past or present, but Wasikowska does admirably to that end.  As for Nicole Kidman, she continues this run of playing women whose moral compass points south and though I don’t always appreciate her performances I always give her credit for really going for it.  While I don’t think this performance was particularly game changing, I do think that she was credible as the detached matriarch of the house.

As for Matthew Goode, I have always found his work hit or miss.  For a while I felt Goode was on the verge of breaking out as a star, but that one great role and/or performance always seemed to elude him.  Having watched his uneven turn in this film, it seems that he will forever be just another British actor who is capable playing the type of character played in Match Point, and shaky when forced outside that comfort zone.  Never is that more apparent than in this film where on the one hand he must be the charismatic gentleman, and on the other hand he must portray a highly troubled individual.

The net result here is a movie that has great directing and mostly solid acting, but fails to deliver a worthy a payoff.  That doesn’t completely dismiss it as a worthy way to spend ninety-minutes of your life, but it keeps the movie from achieving the heights that it could have.  If you are one who can appreciate the merits of filmmaking even while walking away from the movie feeling unrequited then this would be a decent way to pass the time; but for you if it’s all about the ending,, then you may find Stoker far less appetizing.  For those who are more the former than the latter, I suggest viewing this one on a night when you’re in a particularly odd mood as there’s very little that is warm and fuzzy about this one. 

Standout Performance:  Mia Wasikowska.  I don’t think it was by any means a signature performance, but she is best in show.


Post a Comment