Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Eye of the Storm

Who’d have thunk it? A film uniting Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis, and Geoffrey Rush would be one of the most boring, depressing and suffocating of the year. Rampling stars as Elizabeth Hunter, a senescent Australian matriarch who feels it’s unbecoming for a lady to die before she chooses. That’s bad news for her two money-grubbing children, Basil (Rush), a once-knighted thespian whose King Lear has made him the laughingstock of London, and neurotic, unhappily divorced Dorothy (Davis), who married a prince and only got to keep her title. They’ve come to Sydney to pack Mummy off to an old-age home, but she seems to relish their frustration. She’s not going anywhere.

“The Eye of the Storm” does not find or sustain a consistent tone. The interchanges between Elizabeth and Dorothy (and between both of them and the inordinately large household staff, and the family lawyer and his wife) careen from faux-affectionate to vituperative to downright toxic. Director Fred Schepisi never fully lets his actors loose, preferring to maintain an air of ersatz solemnity that causes some of the increasingly bizarre goings-on to come off as unintentionally funny. (He also unwisely casts his daughter Alexandra as the sexy young nurse who takes up with Basil.) The movie looks and feels like it was made for public television in 1982, with the same whiny violin refrain repeated ad nauseam. It’s the sort of thudding would-be prestige picture that makes you feel old and sad just watching it. You check the time and cry a little on the inside: Only four minutes have passed since you looked last? Not even five?

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