Thursday, 10 September 2009

REVIEW: Dorian Gray

Called it. Although to be fair I should admit that this is slightly better then I thought it would be. It's still shit though, leaving The Picture of Dorian Gray to rise ever higher in that list of great books that make crap films. Imdb counts 19 adaptations none with a rating higher then 6.3 out of ten. Even the Twilight series has better stats then that. What's really frustrating about this film is that there's clearly a good film in there somewhere, Its a terrific concept on paper and the novel is revered to the extent that it is for a reason. But its just far too crass in most of its execution.

In the spirit of breeding positive energy I'll count the good things first. There's a relatively good performance from Colin Firth here, even if he is playing in very safe territory with a role he's played probably thirty times in one form or another. Still he seems very comfortable with the Oscar Wilde dialogue, more then anyone else here anyway. The film doesn't look cheap either and whatever the merit of it its a British film that doesn't look like an extended episode of The Bill, which in itself is something to celebrate. Otherwise, this is an overwrought mis-step. The story itself is a subtle one, but the film overplays every aspect of it into caricature. There's a clear process of modification for accessibility going on here and its visible in every frame. From the cheap and lame attempt of trying to get scares via violin screech, to the condensing of Dorian's descent into decadence via a few PG-13 sex-montages. Which leads to the next major failing in that it only deals with the material on its most basic level, ignoring the smarter aspects of the idea or at least dumbing them down to mere exposition. In many ways this film tells the story of Narcissus rather then Dorian Gray, and while the two are certainly similar Narcissus was a prisoner of his own reflection, a person who without is beauty is nothing and thus a victim of his own biology. The novelized Dorian was a much more active participant in his own downfall, being someone who elected that lifestyle and much more of a master of his own destiny then the dude we see here, who basically is some harmless boy who falls victim to his own looks and the manipulations of Firth's Henry Wotton. The film comes very close to abdicating his responsibility and that is of no use to anyone, and it cheapens the strength of the story.

Performance wise Ben Barnes isn't quite the wooden Orlando Bloom redux I thought he'd be. He's not great really, but not bone chillingly awful so fair play. I won't rag on him too much. I will say he doesn't quite have the range for this role, even if he does look the part. But that's it. Rebecca Hall of Vicky Cristina Barcelona fame turns up for a bit in a tacked on role, and isn't particularly impressive. But she's a good actress and she'll be back. There isn't really anybody else worth mentioning and its through sheer lack of competition that Firth steals the movie. Director Oliver Parker, having adapted two previous Oscar Wilde works, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest is far from comfortable in these darker areas and as a consequence overdoes everything. From the poverty-stricken Victorian streets that look more like something from a bad horror movie, to the way the film is shot, which reeks of trying too hard at every turn. The guy has no idea how to make a good horror movie and as a consequence the movie's fate is set.

Rating: 5/10

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