Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Directed by Tom Tykwer & Written by Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger & Tom Tykwer (Screenplay).

Aside (but enough about me, how are you doing?): Due to popular demand (alright one or two people mentioned they liked it) me and my lovely cohort have decided to do another one of these tandem movie and book reviews. You are excited, I know you are.

Preconceptions: Nerts, I read and enjoyed Perfume the novel a few years back. Why is this a bad thing, you ask? Usually, I try not to read the source material of the movies based on books until later, if I intend to review them. I know the last thing I'd want to read in a movie review is mewling about how much better the book was. I mean, typically (with a few exceptions, I'm looking at you: Thank You for Smoking) the book has a heads up on the movie. But who cares? It's a pretty widely held belief and doesn't tell you a damned thing about the flick. So I'll try and keep that muck out of here.

That being said, I know that Tom Tykwer had a pretty big task in front of him. Making a movie revolving around the sense of smell is a pretty tricky task. I've got no idea how you'd even begin to do that.

Finally: Uuuugh two and a half hours? My goldfish attention span thinks that is probably too long.

General Review: Alright. So I was wrong about the length. One of the best things about Perfume was the pacing. It kept me interested for the full two and a half hours and none of the acts dragged (not even the second, usually the most wig wearing, besequined, draggiest of acts). Another bit of high praise is the way the extremely different acts fit neatly together. We go from feral boy child, to perfume slave, to murderer remarkably smoothly. I was afraid it'd feel like watching three different movies (particularly since it was so damned long), but not at all.

Overall I don't care for narrators. With very few exceptions they feel like sloppy story telling. And it's jarring having some godlike figure yacking over the movie telling me how I should feel and reminding me what's going on. Goldfish like attention span or not, I can usually manage on my own. Unfortunately, Perfume wasn't one of the exceptions. I know Tykwer had a lot to convey with a nearly mute main character and the sense of smell; but that was the challenge he took on. And actually, a lot of the time when the narrator was gabbling on, I probably could have figured out what was happening without the help. The scene where Grenouille (the main guy) follows the sweet smelling girl through the streets would have been a lot more powerful in silence. Or maybe with one or two lines of added dialogue.

A little more trust that the audience wasn't packed with dullards would have been nice. More than once, I wanted to kick Tykwer in the shins and tell him I didn't need his help or condescension. While at some points of the movie I wanted to throw a tantrum at him, Tykwer did manage to convey the sense of smell visually. Alright, a few of the ways he did this were a bit clumsy (ahem, narrator, ahem) but most of them weren't. Ben Whishaw's performance definitely helped.

Alright, lets talk actors. Man, was Ben Whishaw good. He's a pretty major reason a lot of the difficult scenes worked. He sold the whole feral, meticulous, tortured genius thing. It didn't come off campy or mincing or over the top (I'm looking at you: Brian Cox as Dr. Lecktor in Manhunter). And man oh man, was Dustin Hoffman bad. The character of Giuseppe Baldini, the old Italian failing perfumer, was pretty freaking funny. Dustin Hoffman playing him as the same old New York Jew I've seen him play in countless movies, was not.

I know Alan Rickman was a good guy in this...but I was convinced right to the end that he'd suddenly laugh manically and kill or terrorize his own daughter. He's just got such good bad guy presence.

Ultimately, I found the end of the movie a bit unsatisfying. I know, I know, it's the same one as the book and they're doing a Jesus allegory. A Jesus allegory doesn't make something good, even if you set it up earlier in the movie. Despite my couple of quibbles, overall it was a a movie worth seeing and not a bad book adaptation.

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