Friday, October 10, 2008

"Damage" (1992, Dir: Louis Malle)

Major flaws of casting (with one notable exception) and a cold, detached mode of direction cripple this potentially interesting melodrama. The main faults of this picture can all be traced back to the flick's woefully misguided attempts at turning Jeremy Irons into a sex symbol.

Stephen Fleming, a well-to-do politician (Irons, somehow creating a performance both underdone and hyperbolic) strikes it up with Anna, a beautiful young woman at a party (Juliette Binoche, unengaging) and embarks on a wild sexual affair. Finding out that she is in a relationship with his son, Martin (the beautiful Rupert Graves, pretty good in a negligible role) doesn't douse his passion, and their affair becomes more and more dangerous to all involved, including Fleming's wife, Ingrid (Miranda Richardson, absolutely f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c).

The heart of this picture should be in the myriad sex scenes, but they are acted and directed so as to be deterrents to passion and interest. Jeremy Irons offers such a childish, over-the-top imitation of coital ecstasy that it makes you wonder whether he had ever had sex before. Whatever you want to call his beastly howling, you can't call it realistic. Juliette Binoche does an okay job convincing us that Anna is even marginally turned on by these overwrought trysting sessions, but even her beauty and natural sad charisma can't save the cold direction from itself. Grand opera and chilly classical scores aren't hugely appropriate accompaniments to passionate sex scenes. As a result, what should have been hypnotic and sensual is merely clinical, and we end up having no idea of WHY Anna and Fleming are so addicted to each other.

The performances of the two leads are so distant and underplayed that it is impossible to believe that such a relationship could actually take place. For a film like this to work, we need to understand the irresistible danger and the adrenaline rush that attracts Fleming to such a scenario. The viewer is forced to look at the proceedings from a distance when, for the film to function, they should have been in the thick of things.

The ending is the best part, thanks to Miranda Richardson. She blows the entire film out of the water in a magnificent two-scene acting feat that must be seen to be believed.

Overall, the film is nice-looking but so coldly unemotional that it is impossible to really identify with the events happening onscreen.


Dame James Henry said...

I saw this a little while ago and I really didn't understand Miranda Richardson's performance. I felt like there was absolutely nothing going on with her (or with anyone for that matter) throughout the course of the film and that crying scene was absolutely shameless. It's a shame she was nominated for an Oscar for this and not The Crying Game, which she was AMAZING in.

And, yeah, this film is really bad too. It's trying to be some weird detached sexual odyssey but it's ultimately really boring.

Slayton said...

I thought the crying scene was smack bam amazing. Shame on you!

No, I think she did a good job in her quieter scenes too. Her face when her son tells her he's marrying Anna... her expressions in the restaurant scene, her first scene etc.

But I do not get how you can't appreciate the final scenes?!

Still, she's the only actor in that film that does ANYTHING with her role. Juliette Binoche stands around looking bovine, Jeremy Irons is just plain bad, Rupert Graves hardly does anything and the less said about Leslie Caron the better.

Dame James Henry said...

To me, it felt exactly like that scene in A Mighty Heart in which Angelina Jolie has a crying jag for 90 seconds straight-- it's simply an excuse to showcase how much ACTING these ladies are doing when, in fact, they can do far more with far less. It's not bad, per se, and Miranda is as good as the role's just completely unnecessary.

Slayton said...


Slayton said...

Miranda > Angelina

Dame James Henry said...

Agreed. The Crying Game far outweighs anything Angelina has ever done.