Movie magic at Majestic
CATE Blanchett intended to make her debut as a feature director with this film adaptation of Dutch author Herman Koch's chilling bestseller.
When she parted ways with the project, screenwriter Oren Moverman stepped up.
Since no official explanation has been given, it's tempting to attribute Blanchett's departure to creative differences.
Surely Blanchett's version of The Dinner, about two couples who meet at an exclusive restaurant to discuss their sons' heinous-but-thus-far undetected crime, would have gone straight for the narrative jugular.
Moverman, who directed Richard Gere in his critically acclaimed passion project Time Out of Mind (2014), is more squeamish.
As a filmmaker, he skirts around the edges of the book's misanthropic brutality, focusing on the back story of its unreliable narrator Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan) instead.
Moverman signals Lohman's psychological instability from the get go when, in an early scene with wife Claire (Laura Linney), he becomes stuck in a repetitive thought loop.
It's a strong performance from Coogan - an actor with a knack for making the most unsympathetic character compulsively watchable.
Humour is one of his tools of trade. Since there are precious few laughs in The Dinner, the role amounts to a considerable dramatic stretch. Linney keeps a tight rein on his controlling wife Claire.
And rounding out the strong ensemble cast is Gere's successful Senator Stan Lohman, who infuriates Paul even further by keeping his cool in the face of his brother's constant hectoring, and Rebecca Hall as Stan's younger, trophy wife, Katelyn.
But Moverman's decision to flesh out his story with flashbacks and expositional digressions wrests Koch's lean, mean thriller out of shape.
WHILE the box office continues to be dominated by blockbusters, one modestly budgeted movie has managed to penetrate the heart of America.
Gifted, the story of an unorthodox American family struggling to keep itself together, has touched thousands, making almost $25million (A$31m) in the US.
Much of the film's success comes down to director Marc Webb, who made the leap from indie comedy 500 Days of Summer to The Amazing Spider-Man back in 2012.
One of the script's many strengths is the family around which the film is based. Chris Evans - known for his role as Captain America - plays a single man who looks after his incredibly intelligent niece. Their neighbour, played by the ever-wonderful Octavia Spencer, acts as another parental figure.
"That's what happens in central America,” Webb says, explaining why he wanted to develop a feature focused on a non-traditional family.
"It's a sweet movie. It's not a cinematic masterpiece but it celebrates good things. It's got a big heart, and it was fun to make. It's a different facet of American culture in a really positive way.”
One of the main reasons Gifted connects with audiences so well is because of Evans. "We needed someone who had a little bit of darkness while also having some humour, plus a little sarcasm, all of which fit Chris perfectly.”
Evans, Webb says, has something most other American actors lack at the moment: a certain masculinity. "It's a weirdly tricky thing to find young, male, American actors like Chris. As a director, it's an interesting thing to go out and search for those actors. Maybe Americans come off as a little sensitive, I don't know.”
Webb directed both The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel. The studio was expected to launch a Spider-Verse to compete with Marvel's very own Avengers.
However, both projects have since been shelved by the studio, which instead decided to team up with Marvel to produce Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Whether the director returns to big-budget pictures or not, no doubt his optimistic outlook will seep onto the screen.
- From Screen Life, with The Independent's Jack Shepherd.
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