Saturday, July 3, 2010

Girl on...Movie? Action: Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray (2009)
Director: Oliver Parker
Writers: Oscar Wilde (novel), Toby Finlay (screenplay)

Aside: What’s this, Doomwench is writing a movie review? Quiver in your boots my friends, I have forsaken my bookish tower to share my thoughts on a movie based on a book!

I love period movies – a lot, so when I heard that there was a UK produced Dorian Gray movie I was thrilled. When I read that Colin Firth was part of it, I was even more excited – I really liked him in The Importance of Being Earnest (2002, also directed by Oliver Parker). So really how could this movie go wrong?

My Review:

Somehow, this movie managed to go wrong.

Now, let me begin with the statement that it’s been many years since I read Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, but I recall that I enjoyed it. This also means that I can’t comment on how true the adaptation is to the novel, which is likely for the best since that would be boring.

From the first moment that Dorian Gray (actor Ben Barnes) showed up on the screen I didn’t like him, which is to say I’ll start in on the acting right away. I think he looks bug-eyed and a little slow. I also found his acting to be lack-lustre and got the impression that perhaps the nuances of Dorian Gray were beyond his emotional range. I found him more believable as the country-bumpkin at the beginning than the supposedly seductive, suave charmer he was supposed to be partway through the movie. It just wasn’t believable.

Next to Ben Barnes, Colin Firth looked stiff and out of place, almost as if he was wishing that he was in a different movie. I believed his philandering more than Barnes’ but I also wasn’t convinced. He did seem to come to life in the later parts of the movie, so at least there was that.

In fact, all of the acting seemed a little bit forced, so perhaps it’s an issue of direction.

The sets and costumes were pretty, but nothing extraordinary that you’d need to rush out to see, either. If you’ve seen one period piece you’ve pretty much seen them all.

One of the things I did enjoy was the montage of debauchery that shows Dorian’s moral decline and his ability to seduce those around him and convince them to go beyond their comfort zones into greater and greater depravity. Of course, since this was very visual and included no dialogue there was no terrible acting. Which is to say I wasn't forced to remember that this Dorian Gray is simply not charming enough to pull off blood-letting orgies with the prim and proper Victorian ladies.

Speaking of ladies, these weren’t terrible. I think Sybil Vane (portrayed by Rachel Hurd-Wood) was the kind of pretty that would lead a man into temptation, soft and rosy (you know, if you go in for that kind of thing) and she held her own acting wise (and here I am back to acting). Emily Wotton (actress Rebecca Hall) was a nice “new woman” foil to Dorian’s decadence, but she was a little too easily taken in by Dorian, I expect more from a woman who claims to be so worldly!

Ultimately, I think this movie fell flat due to bad casting choices and bad directing for actors who needed to be forced to do better. And it could have benefited from a tighter script, as it’s nearly 2 hours long and it turned out to be 2 very boring hours. My final word is that it might be best to skip this one. Or if you want to watch a movie based on something Oscar Wilde wrote you could check out The Importance of Being Earnest of which I have fond memories, therefore it must be a good movie.

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