Thursday, March 31, 2005


(Dir Larry Parr, with Kate Elliot as Leeanne and Jared Turner as Brent)

By some curious coincidence, two of Maurice Gee's books were made into movies in 2004.
In My Father's Den is the best movie the New Zealand cinema industry has ever produced. Fracture is not quite at that level. It had a lot of potential - there's a darkness and freakiness to the story that in the right hands would have been brilliant. Unfortunately, I don't think the players were quite up to it.

Take two examples. There is this supposedly fearsome eccentric old lady who runs a fence operation from some junkyard - the junkyard itself was brilliantly realised, with its broken down old ferry-go-round and multiple levels of mysterious objects. But Brenda Kendall came across as a mere pastiche of the character she was supposedly playing. The central character, Brent, was worse, overdoing the haplessness. He has apparently always been wierd, spending a lot of his childhood hiding under houses and so on, and is now a small time burglar who gets out of his depth when he nearly kills a woman in his efforts to avoid being caught. The role required a lot of him, as we need to see the events closing in on him and his inability to do anything sensible. I just don't think Turner was up to it.

So, anyway, when Brent pushes Ulla down the stairs, that is the start of the various fractures suggested by the title. Within her family, there are a few fissures about to blow wide open, as it turns out that Gordon has been a naughty fellow and embezzled a couple of million from his employer. Brent's family is already on the rocks - his mother is a member of a very fundamentalist Christian sect, one which is totally unforgiving and uncompassionate. His father is not like that at all, and I'd say he was my favourite character. Brent's sister, Leeanne, is a single mom and is really great in her relationships with her wee boy, but otherwise not very convincing. As Brent gets weirder and weirder, she tries to help but has problems of her own, particularly Danny.

Now, Danny is Jodi's (Leeanne's flatmate) boyfriend but is a bit of a scarey character - we know that because he has a big bushy beard and wears singlets. Leanne tells Jodi to get rid of him but instead she flees - leading to very strange scenes in which Danny expects Leeanne to cook etc for him. He never quite rapes her, but there is this supposedly foreboding presence in the house which I had trouble taking seriously. Still, it was great when Leeanne's Dad, just a normal sort of fellow (played by the late Tim Lee) knocks Danny cold.

Back to Brent. He knows the cops are after him. Several days after the event, he realises he left his gloves behind at Ulla's house, which means his fingerprints are there too. So, what do you do to avoid being matched with those fingerprints? Naturally, you use a train to remove the tips of your fingers! I damn near laughed at the pathetic expression on his face as he holds up his decapitated hand! Probably not the intended effect. But the cops close in on him anyway (through the use of a clue that they really should not have had - Brent stole a pashmina which he gave to Leeanne: she had it in her house and then fled with nothing but what she was wearing to Brent's house, where the cops find the pashmina). That's not to say that they get their man.

Of course, the director may have out-smarted me. The gap between the acting and the story they had to carry may have been another form of fracture, but somehow I don't think so.


Blogger harvestbird said...

A fair review, I think--I saw this film almost straight after In My Father's Den (the latter is still showing in Chch--the former had a super-short run) and was struck by the difference. This is a static sort of affair, and the fact the team has followed the novel fairly steadily and faithfully hampers them I think. In In My Father's Den they've taken the story and run in a different (but parallel) direction.

I liked the Wellington feel of this movie--lots of running up side streets and outside steps.

2:45 PM  

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