Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Far From The Madding Crowd (2015) - Movie Review


There’s a recurring trend among filmmakers with lower-than-low-budget beginnings that, once they start being given reasonable wallets to work with, they probably make the best use of it of all their peers. Think Peter Jackson's Braindead beginnings, and then look at how he handled Tolkien. Enter Thomas Vinterberg, probably best remembered for his contributions to the Dutch filmmaking movement Dogme 95, who does a masterful job at staging every single scene in this film.

From the set locations to the costuming to the wide use of space to show off the beautiful countryside, this is a drop-dead gorgeous looking production. I mean, when even a simple scene of a man walking on a beach front looks like it had very clear time and effort put into it, credit needs to be given where it’s due. This also goes for the cast, particularly Carey Mulligan who does a great job as Bethsheba. Even if it feels like certain dramatic opportunities haven’t been afforded her, she embodies the ahead-of-its-time strong female character that Thomas Hardy was best known for; certainly does better than the last time she portrayed the female lead in a film based on a classic work of literature. I swear, I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Baz Luhrmann for his butchering of The Great Gatsby.

And speaking of actors from far lesser adaptations of novels, we have Michael Sheen as one of Bethsheba’s male suitors. As much as I applaud this more theatrical actor for showing his skills in something that isn’t Twilight: Breaking Dawn, I really hate to admit it but I liked him better in Breaking Dawn. Don’t get me wrong, he’s far better written here and acted with a lot more dignity, but he doesn’t have nearly as much impact here as he should. And, at the end of the day, that’s the biggest problem this film has: For as immaculately produced and well-acted this film is, it really doesn’t leave that much of a lasting impression.

I’ll freely admit that I’m not as familiar with the original novel as I am with Hardy’s other masterpiece Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, having studied it like so many other high school students did, but this story doesn’t feel like it has the immediacy that it should. Just glancing at the CliffNotes for the novel, because let’s face it everyone with access to the Internet did when they were looking at it, the story shows a lot of promise for drama/melodrama that isn’t cashed in on. Juno Temple’s Fanny Robbin is probably the best realized character, embodying the sense of tragedy and unfairness that pervades the era, but even then the obvious reactions to what happens to her aren’t shown.

All in all, while undeniably well made, it just barely registers out of a certain lack of narrative direction and just good acting. That last one particularly sucks because, having seen them in other works, the cast here is genuinely capable of making this work. It’s better than Ricki And The Flash, as this doesn’t have nearly as many narrative progression issues. However, purely in terms of engagement, Oddball honestly made for a more fulfilling watch, goofiness and all.

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