Mixtapes for Hookers

I Watched A Stinky Movie Yesterday
December 29, 2010, 5:16 pm
Filed under: movies | Tags: , , ,

Yesterday morning I finally watched The Cry Of The Owl, the film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s wonderful, wonderful thriller, which I read back in January and which ended up being my favorite thing I read all year.  As I feared, the movie’s pretty terrible; it remains pretty faithful to the plot of the novel, but goes out of its way to confuse every character’s motivations, and not in a good way.  Also,  Julia Stiles portrays the depressed, romantic Jenny with such vocal and facial blankness that the viewer need never wonder what it would be like to see Taylor Swift cast as the Log Lady.  It’s impossible for the audience to believe that peeping tom Robert Forrester–played by Paddy Considine as some sort of B-grade Steve Carrell character–would ever be attracted to Jenny’s happy smile; that would require her to actually move her facial muscles.

The film also has some pacing issues.  When the Highsmith reader meets Forrester, he’s turning down a dinner offer from a possibly swinger-y co-worker to spy on a girl living alone in a secluded house in the woods.  While the readers sympathies eventually align Robert, it’s not at all taken for granted that he’s not a total creep.  In the movie, the first scene is the same.  The co-worker is inexplicably a lot more annoying–jokingly telling Robert he wants to fuck him (but not in a gay way!) for no reason related to the rest of the film–but Forrester’s creepy shenanigans are presented as a pretty run-of-the-mill quirk, like it’s not really that unusual for a grown man to hide in the woods watching a vacantly pretty blonde do dishes.
Admittedly, the film gets a little better in the second half, once the body count starts mounting, but not enough to get over the poorly miscast actors.

And really it’s the character of Nicklie (Caroline Dhavernas), Forrester’s ex-wife, where it’s most evident that the film is a failure.  In the book she’s mostly unseen, mainly experienced by the reader through a drunken series of phone calls.  But in the movie we don’t really get the impression that she’s a drinker.  She lives in a fancy apartment in the city, sure, but so do a lot of people.  That could be fine; maybe Forrester’s lying when he tells people about her drinking problem.  But the trouble is that the film doesn’t really know what to do with her character, and neither does the actress playing the role.  One moment she’s campy, the next she’s extremely earnest.  Why?

The film also diverts from the book, this time rather forgivably, in terms of paranoia.  In the novel, Robert’s haunted by nagging phone calls from his drunk ex-wife and later terrorized by nosy, vindictive neighbors.  That the film basically drops both of these points probably says more about the world of personal communication in the roughly fifty years since the book was first published.

The Cry of the Owl is actually a pretty cinematic novel, full of creeps and darkness and sudden, violent murders.  But this version–the second adaptation, following Claude Chabrol’s French-language adaptation from 1987–is a total stinker.

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