A cinematic spray of acid straight to the face, this caustic little masterwork explores the dramas of sex and childhood with a ferocious candor on par with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", a film I mini-reviewed here a few days ago. It explores the familial structure like a surgeon performs an autopsy. Based on a two-act play by Harold Pinter, the film also unfolds in two acts - "Night" and "Afternoon". The first act is a brilliantly cryptic study of character and motivation without emotion or sentiment, and it showcases some brilliant ensemble acting. The second act isn't half as good - it ditches the labyrinthine dialogue of the first act and settles for a blunt and ungraceful conclusion. Still, the very end is unusual and chilling.
The acting is, by and large, great. I enjoyed Cyril Cusack and Ian Holm the most - the former plays, perhaps, the only truly sympathetic character in the film, and Holm acts with the most innate charisma. Paul Rogers is very good, if a little monotonous, as the malignant father (figure?). Michael Jayston and Terence Rigby do well with what they are given, but they don't have a lot of room to explore their characters. I picked up this film for Vivien Merchant, although I didn't enjoy her performance as much as I hoped I would. She has astoundingly expressive eyes - just watching her face in this film is an education - but the performance isn't nearly as vocally inventive. She's good, but there's a curious dissonance between the two halves of the performance.
Some questions I have: Did Max molest Teddy, Lenny and Joey as children? "Think of the fun we used to have in the bath", "He still loves his father!" and a couple other lines I can't recall right now spring to mind. Also, was MacGregor Max's lover? If you've seen the film I'd love to hear your insights on these subjects.