Low-budget thriller 'The Disappearance Of Alice Creed' just plain works
Suspense drama doesn't reinvent the form, but it gets it all just right
One of the most constant criticisms I've heard of "Avatar" is "the story isn't original." And while I understand why people want to be knocked out by something they've never seen before, I don't think the only valid form of storytelling is trying to be completely original. Not every movie is going to be "Adaptation". For me, it's not really about the story being told so much as it is about how that story is told.
Case in point: "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed."
I was at Toronto this year, seeing whatever I could see, taking recommendations, and since I was up there without a press badge, I was sort of at the mercy of the fates. I had never heard of this film until I was outside a theater and Michael Lerman, a friend from the festival circuit, started raving about how great it was. I was lucky enough to sneak into the only other screening of the film, thanks to Lerman putting me in touch with the right people, and I still owe him a thank you for the suggestion.
Written and directed by J Blakeson (and, yes, that's how he bills himself), this is probably the hundredth indie kidnapping drama I've seen I started working as a professional reviewer. So many of them fall into a familiar pattern, and there's little or nothing they can do to liven up the formula. As soon as this film started, I sort of involuntarily sunk down in my seat, convinced I was in for a whole lot of been-there-done-that.
And, to some degree, it is. But Blakeson knows what he's doing, and he's aided admirably by a cast that plays it like it's the first time anyone has ever told this type of story. Eddie Marsan has been building a great resume as a character actor over the last few years, and it seems crazy to me that as recently as "Miami Vice," he wasn't even listed on IMDb. Now he's got a major role as Inspector Lestrade in a giant-budget "Sherlock Holmes" film, he was arguably the second lead in Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," and suddenly he's one of those guys that people recognize, who's showing up everywhere. He plays Vic, one of two men who have kidnapped the titular Alice Creed, played by Gemma Arterton. She's the one standing next to Daniel Craig in that photo I ran on yesterday's James Bond story, and you'll see her this year in both "Clash Of The Titans" and "Prince Of Persia." I doubt either of those movies will push her in quite the same way that this one does, though. The third part of this twisted triangle is Danny, played by Martin Compston, Vic's partner and the lynchpin on which most of the film's wicked mechanics hinge.
I won't give away a single one of the film's twists, and it has many, many turns of the screw in store for viewers, but I'll just say that the film's strength comes not from the basic plot, but from the way it establishes the characters, then ratchets up the tension based on them all behaving in ways that are true to what we know about them, even as it keeps secrets about those characters until the exact moment a reveal might lay you flat. It's a carefully constructed film, but it never feels like it's going through the motions, or like it's anything less than organic.
Arterton is laid bare in the film, both physically and emotionally, and it's not easy work. Compston brings a sweaty intensity to his role. But for my money, Marsan's the one who steals the film. His Vic is a fascinating ball of fury, and as the layers are peeled back and Vic's dark heart is exposed, it becomes a portrait of what drives men to any terrible thing.
The film is lean, well-photographed, and there's not a wasted moment in it. Almost the entire thing takes place in one room between these three people, and my guess is it couldn't have cost much. It's the very model of how indie filmmaking should work, and I sincerely hope people get a chance to see it this year. Like last year's Australian thriller "The Square," it stands as a testament to just how much can be done with almost nothing in the right hands, and it completely delivers on its premise.
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