By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
An odd thing happened to me awhile back. A name that I was unfamiliar with, J Blakeson, kept cropping up on director shortlists for high-profile projects alongside hot indie directors like Duncan Jones, Joe Cornish, and Cary Fukunaga. His only film to date, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, had escaped my attention completely. Recently I finally got the chance to watch it and see what all the fuss is about.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed is about the kidnapping of, well, Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton) by two ex-cons, Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston), who have a meticulous plan for ransoming her to her rich father. The fun in the film begins when the revelations start flying, as almost nothing and nobody is what they appear to be on the surface.
Good guess, but no
The film goes just a hair under ten minutes with only a single line of dialogue, instead portraying the preparations of the two kidnappers in a beautifully shot progression that could almost play as its own short film. Already you can see why Blakeson is such an in-demand director, and he consistently shows off his strong eye and flair for framing and shot selection throughout the flick.
The plot seems like something you’ve seen a hundred times before, but once the wheels start turning and the revelations begin to fly fast and furious, you realize it isn’t. Instead of the crime drama it appears to be at the outset, the film develops into something akin to a psychological stage play, with most of the action taking place in the kidnappers’ hideout with no other actor appearing besides the two criminals and their kidnappee. The real action here is the ever-changing dynamics between the three as each new piece of information about their relationships with each other is revealed. Don’t worry, there’s plenty o’ shootin’ as well.
And this. This is a thing that happens.
The excellent craftsmanship put into this film is apparent on every level. The cinematography is great, the score is perfect for the film, and even the set design is a standout. Each actor gets a chance to strut their stuff, and the always great Eddie Marsan especially stands out towards the end. And that ending wraps things up with a nice bow, a sweet tracking shot montage, and a clever a-ha! moment regarding the title.
Before too long, you begin to wish the film had gone dialogue-free a little longer. The scenario isn’t the only thing that feels like a stage play, unfortunately, as the dialogue also has that quality. It’s difficult to pin down why theater dialogue is so uncinematic, but there’s something about it that works on the stage but feels artificial and unnatural in a film. Perhaps it’s easier to suspend disbelief when you’re staring at cardboard backdrops.
If somebody’s confusing this with real life, I want the phone number of their dealer
Several of the methods the film builds tension are too transparent. This is the kind of film where the keys are juust out of reach, or the antagonist has just the right suspicions, however unlikely.
That’s ultimately the downfall of this flick. However pretty it is, and however clever most of the twists are, everything’s just a touch on the nose. It seems like once the script gets itself in a corner, it goes to the easy cliché to get out of it, which is disappointing.
While uneven and imperfect, this Brit crime thriller displays some serious talent that will be interesting to watch develop.
Take a Drink: whenever you see the bullet casing
Take a Drink: every time Eddie Marsan looks creepy as fuck
Take a Drink: every time Alice starts to cry (that’d be f’d up, if it sounded sincere at all)
Do a Shot: whenever Danny acts like a stupid douche