SCI-Fl THRILLER SIGNS
(12) 120min no
Will keep audiences in a near-hysterical state
With his Spielbergian flair for wrapping pop-spiritual ideas in a crowd-pleasing package, The Sixth Sense director M Night Shyamalan has created a spine-chilling blockbuster movie that starts out like an alien invasion flick and ends up as a parable about religious faith. Six months after an event which shattered his religious faith, ex-minister Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) awakes in the middle of the night to find his children missing from their beds. Outside in the velvet dark dogs bark at nothing, insects chitter, wind chimes tinkle and tall corn stalks rustle. Even the silence resonates with incipient dread. In the middle of a corn field, Hess finds his sci-fi literate son Morgan (Rory Culkin) and wide-eyed daughter 80 (Abigail Breslin) staring at a giant crop circle. Is it the work of local pranksters or a navigational aid for aliens? Similar circles that have appeared in other countries, but are they apocalyptic portents or merely fodder for UFO-obsessed nutters?
The set-up is self-consciously reminiscent of The War of the Worlds or Close Encounters, but Shyamalan eschews spectacle in favour of nerve-jangling suspense created out of the most mundane domestic situations: an old baby monitor picks up scratchy static and barely audible clicks, which may or may not be alien radio signals; sketchy TV reports hint at a global invasion, but all we see is a glimpse of blue alien finger beneath a pantry door. Gibson gives his subtlest performance for years as a faithless father who - in the face of the alien threat, and with the help of his children and brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) - ﬁnds a way to believe again.
Shyamalan not only has a Hitchcockian grasp of cinematic technique, he also has unerring knack for giving audiences what they want, without insulting their intelligence. So his sly use of disquieting camera angles, eerie silences, and a creepy James Newton Howard score will keep audiences in a state of near hysterical anxiety for almost two hours. Sadly, the last five minutes are anti-climactic and the film’s denominationally unspecific religious message - that without faith in God you cannot read the signs or protect your family - is both dubious and wishy-washy. (Nigel Floyd)
I General release from Fri 73 Sep.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
(U) 97min 0..
A noble celebration of lies
It would be ludicrous to suggest that all films can be classified by colours — can you imagine someone saying: ‘No. That film's a little bit too mauve for me"? However, if we suppose that Gaspar Noe's controversial and hard-hitting Irreversible is red and David Lynch's sensual noir Blue Velvet. is. er blue. then Oliver Parker‘s film version of Oscar Wilde‘s ‘trivial comedy for serious people' is undoubtedly lavender. Lavender because it is
24 THE LIST 13—19 Sep 2002
exceedingly gay. both in the traditional and the contemporary sense of the word.
Fans of the play. a classic comedy of errors that coats a subversive heart with a playful veneer ('Earnest' was apparently a late 19th century euphemism for homosexual). will be more than familiar with the plot. Rural gent Jack Worthing (Colin Firth) invents an errant brother called Earnest as a means of escaping the mundanities of a life in the country. Using Earnest's indiSCretions as an eXCUS€ to go into London. Jack then aSSumes the role of Earnest so that he can enjoy the excesses of his imaginary brother's lifestyle with none of the blame attached. Jack. or rather Earnest's partner- in-crime. the wily Algy Moncrieff (played to perfection to Rupert Everett). calls this classic 'Bunburying'. as he himself has a made-up friend called Bunbury who he visits in the country to outrun the debt collectors who pursue him in the city. This double duality comes a cropper, though. when both men go courting wives
(played by Reese Witherspoon and Frances O‘Connor).
The ensuing farce. conducted via Wilde's brilliantly witty epigramatic style (Australia? l'd sooner die!‘). is a delight to watch — although committed Wildeans will find that they foresee the punchlines before they happen. Dame Judi Dench steals the show as Algy's austere aunt. the formidable Lady Bracknell. while Everett and Firth (reunited on screen nearly 20 years after they played gay lovers in Another Country) are equally well-cast.
Director Oliver Parker. who'd previously brought Wilde's An Ideal Husband to the big screen. succeeds in updating the play for a modern audience. ironically by drawing on a considerably older text — Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. A theme of that play — pastoral romance — heightens the holiday mood of this comic drama. The result is an enjoyable romp that's a noble celebration of lies and a veritable celebration of pastel. (Catherine Bromley)
I General release from Fri 6 Sep.
THRILLER THE BOURNE IDENTITY (12A) 118min 0..
A body is fished out of the Mediterranean by trawlermen. Although riddled with bullet holes. the ship’s doc brings the seemingly dead man back to life. Suffering from amnesia. the only clue to his identity is a Swiss bank account number imbedded beneath the skin of his hip.
It's a classy opening to this eSpionage thriller loosely adapted from Robert Ludlum's 808 Spy novel. The man. we soon learn. is Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon). a master assassin trained in America and posted in Europe ready to be activated. Terminator-style. to take out political enemies of the US. But Bourne somehow screwed up a mission to terminate an African terrorist. much to the embarrassment of the US government. and so his employers (Brian Cox and Chris Cooper) activate three more operatives (including Clive Owen's bookish marksman) to silence him. BOurne. meanwhile. goes on the lam thr0ugh Switzerland and France. attempting. with the help of German traveller Marie (Franke Potente). to discover who he is and why he's targeted for death.
Lively but cliched
Tony Gilroy's screenplay works to undermine the cliches of the espionage thriller: Bourne's enemies turn out not to be foreign but home grown: the licensed to kill agent is no womanising misogynist; Bourne's getaway car (actually Marie's) is not only gadget-less. but a beat-up old red Mini Cooper. Nevertheless. the film swiftly descends into cliche as Bourne. rediscovering his assassin skills. begins to kick ass. while Marie stands on the sidelines offering only wide-eyed admiration. And when BOurne finishes a shoot-out in a Parisian apartment building by jumping down the six storey stairwell on the back of a corpse and blowing away a goon en route to crunch. you realise this is Bond territory. The assassins even share the same initials.
Director Doug Liman (Swingers. Go) keeps the action lively (the fist fights Spund like pieces of two—by-four being cracked in half). and while Damon's b0yish looks don’t speak of a cold-blooded killer. the beefed-up actor nevertheless acquits himself well. Potente. as is customary in this kind of film. is. however. utterly wasted. (Miles Fielder)
I General release from Fri 6 Sep.