Film of the week

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (12A)

2.00

Starring: Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins

And still it comes, the annual Woody Allen film, and the debate starts again (at least among the few people who still watch them) as to whether the latest is worse than the previous, or slightly better, or merely the same depressing evidence of a director who seems to have forgotten why he made films in the first place. As it happens, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger does mark a minor improvement, but only because his last film was the dismally unfunny Whatever Works. In the long run it will be bracketed under Allen's regrettable series of London misadventures that include Match Point and Cassandra's Dream.

What's notably different about this one is the all-round quality of the ensemble. Mystifyingly, great actors still want to work for Allen, and here Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin lead the line as an unhappily married couple living in London. She, Sally, has an unspoken crush on her gallery-owner boss, Greg (Antonio Banderas). He, Roy, is a stalled novelist who's been living off her and anxiously awaiting the verdict from his publisher on the new book. In the meantime, he gazes through his bedroom window at a beautiful musician, Dia (Freida Pinto), who lives in the building opposite; unbelievably, this heavy-gutted lout manages to score a lunch date with her.

A narrator alerts us at the outset that this tale is (to quote Macbeth) "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". I suppose we should be thankful for the warning, though Allen might have chosen better with a line from Julius Caesar, the one that goes, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves". For this film's philosophical viewpoint, if it can so be called, is that we are responsible for our own happiness or misfortune, and that seeking solace in otherworldly elements is pure folly. That "fault" is most keenly represented in Sally's tippling mother Helena (Gemma Jones), who often drops by to bemoan her husband's abandonment and report the latest news from a fortune-teller she's devoted to: so anxious and suggestible has she become that she swallows any old guff about auras and reincarnation and even the line about meeting "a tall dark stranger".

Her straying husband, Alfie, is played by Anthony Hopkins as a classic deluded older man who thinks he can cheat age by romancing a much younger woman. Unfortunately, that woman is Charmaine (Lucy Punch), a gold-digging blonde hooker so crudely drawn one might almost suspect Allen of misogyny. In return for sex (he's popping Viagra like mad) and the promise of a child, Alfie spoils her with furs, jewellery and a fabulous apartment. The watchfulness and intelligence in Hopkins's eyes make rather a nonsense of his character, who's evidently spent a lifetime getting rich only to squander his wealth in short order. Roy, the failing writer, is another faulty creation, a man who can crassly admit to a woman that he's been spying on her and still gets lucky. On their first date, Dia lets slip that her father is an eminent literary figure (he translates Eastern European fiction), yet Roy doesn't even bother asking his name. Later, introducing her to his pals in the pub, he says, "I've been exploring the erogenous zones of this delightful creature", and you can hardly stop yourself thinking: eeeew. Does Allen know how horrible that line sounds? I'm not sure he does, otherwise he'd write an appropriate comeback for Dia, or for one of his pals.

The only one of the cast who wins out against the air of unreality is Naomi Watts, her accent a note-perfect estuarial London. Watts, who may have a claim to be the best actor in movies at the moment, does exasperation in a way that remains unusually watchable – and unexasperating – and she plays her scenes opposite Banderas with just the right mixture of cautious flirtation and hopefulness. We gain a very affecting impression of a woman who's exhausted a lifelong sympathy on weaklings – her mother, her husband – and now seeks a grown-up relationship with a man who knows his own mind. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger loses us long before the end in a flurry of plot developments – an outrageous plagiarism, the discovery of an infidelity, even a seance – with which Allen keeps the drama artificially alive, while the portrait of our capital city suggests indifference to its depth and texture. It is a typical late Woody Allen picture, stilted, lightly cynical, dramatically inert, but will linger in the memory for Watts's turn.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week