Possession, City by the Sea

I rented (and watched!) both Possession and City by the Sea last night.

Possession, directed by Neil LaBute is taken from A. S. Byatt’s novel of the same name, a book I read a couple of times as a teenager. For one of the reasons I liked the book, I liked the film: the story of pure intellectual persuit, mind over emotion. In the film, Aaron Eckhardt has this role, and by acting somewhat woodenly, he manages to convery the repression that this entails. Gwyneth Paltrow, as the ‘icy’ Maude Bailey plays up her upper-crust-brit, and is mostly successful. Her schtick in these roles is the woman with a hard front and a soft middle, and she does it well. All this being said, I didn’t really like the film: the mix of modernity and retelling of Ash & LaMott’s story didn’t gel, I didn’t sense the passion that so evident in the text of the book. And as Leah said to me ‘Oh, christ. There’s nothing more tedious than two poets in love’. The Romanticism (capital R for the school) of the film really was laid on pretty thick. The ‘villains’ of the film were laughable – it was as if they were meant to be comic-relief villains, rather than the highly-competitive scholars they apparently were. So skip the film, read the book.

I’d had little interest in seeing City by the Sea, but it came with a high recommendation from my friend Julian, and so I rented it. It was actually much better than I’d originally thought it would be — Robert De Niro toned down his Robert De Niro-ness, Frances McDormand, as always, was excellent, and the supporting cast lived their roles well. I quite enjoyed the film, but I have to say, as is almost always the case for me when Robert De Niro is in the cast, I probably would have enjoyed it more if he were not in it. He’s such a presence on screen, and his characters vary so little (always somewhat taciturn, reluctant, brooders), that it’s hard not to meta-watch his movies. Particularly as he’s played so many cops. Were this role played by someone more invisible within their roles, it would have been more convincing. However, this is really my only complaint. The direction, by Michael Caton-Jones was smooth and unobtrusive and the scoring, a mix of 50’s jingles and the blues really added to the atmosphere. Jame Franco, as the junkie son was fine, but didn’t really set himself apart. His tormeted face was the same as his sad face which was the same as his thoughtful face which was the same as his scared face. An expressive actor he is not.

Despite these seeming myriad complaints, if you like cop dramas, this one’s alright. If you like family-issue dramas, this one’s alright, although it’s not nearly so deep and meaningful as it wants to be.