FILM / Slaughter of The Innocent: Adam Mars-Jones on a spectacular miscasting in John Schlesinger's The Innocent, and the headline-raiding Shopping . . .
Adam Matthews, Terry Townshend
Adam Matthews is Secretary-General of GLOBE International in London, and Terry Townshend is Head of Policy at GLOBE International in Beijing. GLOBE supports legislators through national chapters to develop and advance laws on sustainable development.
Friday 24 June 1994
There's such a thing as casting against type, of course, but there's also such a thing as casting against reason. It's not just that Bob Glass is bluff and brusque, and so the reverse of the characters Hopkins has been playing lately (like C S Lewis, or Stevens in The Remains of the Day). That in itself might be refreshing. But Bob Glass is also American, not casually American like Hannibal Lecter, vanishingly American, but stridently, definitively American, cigar-chomping, shoulder- punching, military American. American as Yank. Bob Glass is the first American that the hero, Leonard, encounters, the person from whom he learns what Americans are like, or how they seem. Historically too this is a time and place where different nationalities are working together, and constantly rubbing up against each other with different approaches to similar tasks.
There's little point in Schlesinger orchestrating parallel sequences of a British officer and an American one dealing with their respective underlings - the Brit formal and constantly complaining, the American abrasively friendly - if we're actually wondering if the two actors overlapped at Rada. Hopkins' accent is variable, but even at its best it is somehow surrealistic, like Marlon Brando's attempts at a British one. We're always thinking of the folly of this actor, for whom extroversion is as natural as flying, playing a character for whom it is as natural as breathing, to the point where it can be used as a disguise.
When Anthony Hopkins ends a speech with the phrase 'One more thing', audiences may hear the line as Lecter-ominous or Stevens-subservient, but they are certain not to be thinking of an American intelligence agent in Cold War Berlin. Hopkins doesn't even take up much screen time, and it's a sort of reverse tribute to him that his disastrousness overshadows the film, his wrongness overwhelming much of that which is right though not very exciting. The film's British hero, for instance, is played by an American, Campbell Scott, but he fits comfortably inside the part. He wears duffle coats and Viyella shirts, the very textiles of inhibition, and is perfectly convincing as someone who can't make himself heard even when he thinks he is shouting. Isabella Rossellini, meanwhile, adds another portrait to her portfolio of beautiful women who get beaten up a lot.
McEwan's novel is crammed with themes: men and women as different countries even when allied, betrayal personal and political, the impossibility of burying the past, the fragility of love. All of these are present in the film, but not vivid. Schlesinger these days seems like a rather tame, conventional director, most notably in the area of Gerald Gouriet's music, which is clumsily used to signal changes of mood that need no such semaphore. Only in one sequence, where the film shies away from the novel's explicit account of its central atrocity, does Schlesinger show an obliqueness of approach that is a sort of boldness. While hideous things are done indoors, Schlesinger's camera, instructed perhaps by Hitchcock's, roves around a courtyard full of innocent activity picking up disturbing undertones: a paving stone chalked red for a game of hopscotch, a carpet being beaten, a red garment in a basket of laundry, a potato being peeled. But the gain of a single subtle sequence seems a small thing to set against the loss of so much intensity and conviction.
Paul Anderson's Shopping (18) is a nicely cheeky attempt to make a glossy British action film with youth appeal, and still have change from pounds 3m. It starts well, with brooding helicopter shots of hellish industrial premises, smoke stacks solemnly burning and a properly pounding soundtrack. Production designer Max Gottlieb has gone for a poor man's Blade Runner look to go with the marginally futuristic script: the action takes place largely at night, in rain and steam and flame. This is London without the landmarks, unsuitable for postcards. Gottlieb manages one enjoyable location, a deserted railway yard where the trains have psychedelic faces painted on them, as if they were disaffected hippie descendants of the Rev Awdry's Thomas and James and Gordon.
Jo (Sadie Frost) is waiting to collect Billy (Jude Law) in a stolen car when he is released from prison, and the first thing they do is steal another car, one he won't be embarrassed to be seen in. These early sequences have the larky feeling of a criminal version of Through the Keyhole. Jo and Billy are outraged by the tacky music in the sound system of a BMW, and by the superannuated video game in the glove compartment. Do people have no taste, no self-respect? Theirs is a truculent consumerism of the dispossessed.
Anderson's script ransacks the headlines for topical symptoms of social collapse: joy-riding, ram-raiding. By showing youth culture almost entirely absorbed in these pastimes, he goes for a little dystopian prophecy, but in other respects its portrait of Britain is perversely cosy. The only figure of authority is Jonathan Pryce, playing a policeman as baffled and well-meaning as any village bobby. The police don't have guns, don't have pursuit vehicles capable of catching a BMW even driven in reverse, and until the very end of the film, have no grasp of tactics. The way they go about breaking up a sort of stolen car gala is by shining a bright light downwards from a helicopter, announcing 'Stay where you are' from a loudhailer, and making no real attempt to pursue the fugitives when they scatter.
Shopping's rudimentary critique of materialism would have more force if the film wasn't busily trying to turn itself, with the help of some mildly stylish camera work, into a slick commercial object. The characters feel that there's all the difference in the world between a Porsche in flames and a Metro, say, in the same condition, and the camera seems to agree with them.
Of the young cast, only Sadie Frost as Jo has any sort of power or presence. Unfortunately her character is a pseudo-strong woman, allowed some biting criticism of the macho behaviour about her, as long as she Stands By Her Man - or in this case sits in the passenger seat as he drives towards apocalypse - in the final reel.
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