Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans
Terry Gilliam is some sort of mad genius, a director who creates insane worlds that shouldn’t work or be entertaining in the least, but somehow are despite how little we can relate to them. He finds something human in these odd dreams of his, exploits it, and explodes in our faces some sort of truth that we had always been too afraid to look at before. That’s why I respect him, that’s why his films (Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Zero Theorem) are (mostly) successes, at least on a critical level. But it’s not easy, performing that kind of magic trick, taking us into a wacky world that turns our lives upside down but at the same time makes us see ourselves from a new perspective. Director Ben Wheatley tries that here, and even has the support of an existing novel as base, but can’t manage the same magical transportation that Gilliam has perfected, resulting in a “good try” but “bad show”.
Dr. Laing has just moved into an exclusive condominium that houses some of the elite professionals of the city, at least in its upper levels. The lower floors are for the families, where their noise & squalor can be kept separated. The condo comes complete with a spa, gym, pool, even a convenient marketplace, and offers all the accommodations of modern living. As Laing meets the occupants of the high-rise, he begins to understand the social circles that exist there. On the top floor lives the Architect, to whom the building is like a child. Charlotte the actress, Wilder the filmmaker, Pangbourne the upper-cruster; individuals from each group mingle on occasion, but mostly keep to their own kind, creating a utopia of sorts, an orderly world where money & power keep the peace. But as the system begins to break down, as the lowly natives begin to grow restless & resentful, the beauty of the building will begin to crumble, as will the manufactured pecking order that keeps each tier in its happy place.
Just to warn you; this isn’t a normal movie. I bring up Terry Gilliam at the beginning because that is the sort of style you should expect from the film, that kooky, unbalanced, dystopic, alternate universe feel & plot that can be very uncomfortable to watch because so little makes sense. It’s not easy to pull that style off, and I don’t think Wheatley was up for the challenge. At first it’s easy to appreciate the work that went it to creating this crazy mood, but the more the film goes on the less enjoyable that atmosphere becomes. By the time the building is rioting and all laws of society have broken down, audiences lose any connection they had to the story, as it goes spinning off, completely out of control. Not that there aren’t morals here, those are very clear, as are the implications the film makes towards our world and our serious problems. But it wasn’t reined in, wasn’t harnessed, and so loses us quite quickly. The acting was fine, and I enjoyed Tom Hiddleston, if not a few of the side actors, especially Sienna Miller, who I despise. There was sex & violence & rockandroll; the film isn’t completely without its positive attributes. But as a whole, it missed the mark by a wide margin, failing to capture me in the way Gilliam’s movies can, spiraling away from its central themes in ever-growing circles.
My rating: ☆ ☆