Thursday, November 18, 2010

'The Disappearance of Alice Creed' Review

The plot of “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is simple. Two ex-cons, Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston), kidnap a young woman named Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton), the estranged daughter of a wealthy man. They hold her in a nondescript apartment that they soundproofed and set up to serve as a makeshift prison cell while they wait for their ransom. They have an airtight plan, and are meticulous down to every last detail, even devising a set of hand signals so Alice can tell them when her bladder is full.

Everything about the film screams minimalism. There are only three actors in the film, and only a small handful of sets. Most of the action takes place in a single, sparsely furnished room. Hell, for the first ten minutes of the movie there is only one word of dialogue, and that word is “okay.” This bare bones approach benefits the film. It forces the weight to rest on the actors, which in this case is a good thing. All of these characters could easily have descended into cliché, but excellent performances, coupled with writer/director J Blakeson’s deft approach, save you from something you’ve already seen. Marsan’s Vic, a seasoned, detail oriented alpha male criminal, meshes well with Compston’s Danny, young and handsome, who is seemingly overwhelmed by their situation, but in reality is playing an angle. Arterton does a nice turn in a part that could have easily been nothing more than a crying, damsel in distress, and she displays an expansive range, appropriate to her dire, confusing, situation.

Like with any good crime story, there is so much more going on than just the surface kidnapping. There are twisted, behind the scenes histories between the three characters, which Blakeson carefully doles out. Everyone has an ulterior motive, and everyone has something extra that they are trying to weasel out of the situation. Escalating tensions and heightened emotions breed conflict and discord, which ultimately drive the plot forward.

There are two large twists in “The Disappearance of Alice Creed”, two places where the story takes drastic turns. The first one works well. It happens organically and is believable. Blakeson is careful not to simply dump an “aha” moment on you and leave it at that. When he reveals the wrinkle he spends time to fully justify it, both to viewers and the characters. He convinces you, and wins you over. Now the second twist, that’s a different story. Unnecessary and awkward, it doesn’t work at all, feels contrived, and will likely leave you yelling, “oh, come on”, at the screen. They should have just let the story play out as it was.

The good thing is that, as the film builds towards the climax, if you can just accept it and move on, the second twist will fade into the background and become part of landscape. It is all too rare for a film that postures as a suspenseful thriller to actually be either of those things, but again, Blakeson delivers. Watching the characters thrash around in the twisted mess they’ve created for themselves, you actually wonder how everything is going to work out. Who is lying to whom? Who knows the other one is lying? Who’s plotting something of their own? What are they going to do? What are these individuals actually capable of?

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” isn’t a perfect movie, there are some obvious problems and things that don’t work, and it is over plotted, but for the most part, Blakeson does a lot with a little. The performances are good, and despite the limited settings, the movie never feels stale or stagnant. He squeezes every last drop out of everything he has, and the end result is an entertaining, suspenseful, thriller.

The DVD comes with a nice collection of bonus material, and includes a reel of outtakes, the theatrical trailer, and a comparison between the storyboards and a finished scene. There is a deleted scene, with optional director commentary, an extended scene, with optional director commentary, and a feature length commentary track. The commentary with the deleted and extended scenes is actually interesting. Not only does Blakeson go into why the scenes were cut, but he also talks about his choices he made visually, about how the camera work changes along with the scene as it builds and intensifies.

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