Wednesday, October 06, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: DORIAN GRAY (2009). "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" are both novellas which I have read. They are also both stories that, when it comes to film adaptations, are not at the top of my list for excitement or anticipation. The best film version of "Jekyll & Hyde" remains the 1932 classic with Fredric March. And this film I actually love. All the other film adaptations of Jekyll & Hyde only provide mild interest for me. There have not been so many versions of the "Dorian Gray" story and the best has always been the 1945 film with Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders. A very good film and one I own. But I couldn't say I love it. It's one of those very good movies which I appreciate but leave me a little cold. Then along comes this brand new version which, to tell the truth, left me with very little sense of anticipation. Like "Jekyll & Hyde", every "Dorian Gray" story you pretty much know where it's going before the opening credits. So it all comes down to how it's executed. I've seen very bad reviews for this film as well as some very good ones. It seems to be a polarizing picture. And any movie which can polarize viewers has a good chance of being interesting. I actually saw this movie last year when my friend from across the pond (otherwise known in the Land of Cerpts and Honey as "The U.K. Connection") sent me the dvd. I'm here to tell you that I was very pleasantly surprised. "Dorian Gray" and "Jekyll & Hyde" pictures have the danger of a high boredom quotient for me but this film never bored me for a second. It's pacing is lively; quite a feat for a film I believe is over 2 hours in length. It was directed by Oliver Parker; also responsible for the 90s OTHELLO film with Laurence Fishburne of which I am quite fond. I must admit that the film's focus on sex as Dorian's main "depravity" was a little bit Puritanical to me; what about all those other much more juicy vices that are barely touched on in the film. However, that's the way this film is heading so we might as well go along for the ride. Keep in mind this is a Victorian story so sex would've been a bigger societal deal. Also, for the blue-nosed Puritanical American society of the 21st century, sex is probably seen as a bigger deal than it was in Victorian England! Be that as it may, Dorian's slide from a naive waif to a naughty knickers is depicted quite believably. And this brings us to the casting. Ben Barnes is sufficiently beautiful and angelic-looking to make a good Dorian Gray. However, he has the personality and performance to make his Dorian Gray interesting. The 1945 film had Hurd Hatfield in the role and, while his mask-like face did contribute a certain amount of unease, his utter blandness made for an uninteresting character when all is said and done. Not here. Barnes is innocent as a newborn babe when required and riddled with sin and depravity as the film goes on; but like the literary Dorian his face remains the same beautiful angel. Both sides exist in Dorian and in us all -- and Barnes plays it that way. Temptation, after all, is always charming and beautiful. The casting of Colin Firth as the profligate Lord Henry Wotton is a master stroke. Not an actor I would think of to play the part originally played by George Sanders but Firth sheds his insipid "Jane Austen" dithering and really sparks as the man who encourages Dorian to sin sin sin. Ben Chaplin is also quite good in a sadly truncated role as Basil Hallward: the artist who paints the picture. Rachel Hurd-Wood is a trifle annoying as the goody two shoes Sybil Vane; perhaps that's why her character only appears in a couple scenes and is then dispatched. She has none of the pathos needed to bring off the usually larger role of Sybil Vane; in fact, she comes across as grasping and passive-agressive. It was good to see her go. Rebecca Hall, on the other hand, is much more interesting as Emily Wotton; one could easily see how Dorian might fall for her after dallying around the globe for decades. There is CGI, of course, in the film but it is done with restraint and rather effectively for a change. A crane shot near the beginning of the film in which we see a Victorian well-to-do street from on high and then down to street level is particularly nice. The "boogah boogah" horror elements are perhaps piled on just a trifle too thickly in the final reel not enough to be damaging to the movie. The painting of Dorian itself is suitably photo-realistic when first seen and it's many "detereorations" are quite arresting. A scene with Dorian staring at the painting only to see a maggot slowly wriggle out of its painted tear duct is startling. So, the 1945 PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY has always been the best film adaptation in my mind; but it has never been particularly close to my heart. I think now I can uncategorically nominate the 2009 DORIAN GRAY as my favourite and one which I actually enjoy watching a good bit more. Is it a better film than the 1945 version. Well, I don't know about that. But it's certainly the one I'd rather watch.

No comments: