Saturday, June 25, 2005

Sin, definitely. But Original? -- no.

In a recent article on Salon.com, Angelina Jolie's Hollywood Exile, Allen Barra wrote:

One of the best examples of the jujitsu Jolie can do on our attitudes toward movie sexuality was her performance in the elegant thriller "Original Sin," released in 2001. Instantly dismissed by critics -- the fate of almost any film done in an odd style by an unknown director -- "Original Sin" deserves a second look, particularly for the performances of Jolie and the sweetly reticent Antonio Banderas. Directed by Michael Cristofer, the playwright ("Shadow Box") who had previously directed Jolie in "Gia," "Original Sin" is a wonderful piece of stylish trash ("I loved it," [Pauline] Kael wrote on the envelope when she returned the copy I loaned her) made from the noir mystery "Waltz Into Darkness," by the cult favorite Cornell Woolrich (best known as the author of the story that became Hitchcock's "Rear Window"). "Waltz Into Darkness" had been filmed before, most notably by Fran├žois Truffaut in 1969 under the title "Mississippi Mermaid," starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. Woolrich's novel, set in late 19th century New Orleans, is about a widower who takes a chance on a mail-order bride who turns out to be an enigmatic adventuress -- like all men in these kinds of stories, he is pulled into a web of deceit and murder.

I thought, gee, how did I miss that film? I promptly added it to my list on Movielink.com (have you encountered them yet? Inexpensive high-quality movie downloads -- nothing to return, no monthly fee -- and no, they didn't pay me to write this.)

Barra may describe it as an "erotic thriller" but I'd call it "improbable soft porn." For noir, the evildoers need to be intelligent, and Julia (Jolie) and Thomas (Walter Downs) are stupid beyond belief. There's a massive glitch in the "plot" -- all the plotting is unnecessary once Luis (Banderas) marries Julia: if they want all his money, all they have to do is kill him and Julia will inherit. Thomas mentions this about 2/3 of the way through the film, (in case the audience has either not noticed or decided to be forgiving) just as they go back to manipulating and plotting and carrying on.

And erotic? No. Eroticism requires the tantalizing veil that draws the audience in, that allows for identification. The fault in this film lies squarely with its director, Michael Christofer, who seems to confuse explicit content with eroticism. He's responsible for the screenplay as well. (The best known of his other screenplays were The Witches of Eastwick, and Bonfire of the Vanities, one reasonably entertaining, and the other one a massive bomb made from a much better novel.)

I agree with Mr. Barra: the film that properly makes use of the gifts of Angelina Jolie hasn't happened yet. In my opinion, though, one of the best things that could happen to her career is for this icky thing to be soon forgotten.

Thumb's down.

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