Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012) -- B-

It pains me to report that Terence Davies, the man responsible for Distant Voices, Still Lives, The House of Mirth, and Of Time and the City (all truly great films) has lost his way in The Deep Blue Sea, based on the play by Terence Rattigan. Davies has always been a gentle, humanist filmmaker, with an eye towards exposing societal constraint, examining decorum, and probing ruptures in rationality - those which often result in human degradation. Thus, it's no surprise that he's chosen Rattigan's 1950's England melodrama to further examine these issues. Moreover, by beginning with an Impressionistic, chronology-skewing opening, Davies produces what he's always done best - synthesizing feeling and affect with social historicity. While the fractured longings of Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) initially achieve these aims, Davies gradually degenerates her suicidal instability into a series of heated or logophilic exchanges, alternating between her rich, but effete husband (Simon Russell Beale) or her poor, but affectionate lover Freddie (Tom Hidddleston). Davies' linguistic sophistication has often remained implicit, organic. Here - his high art aims are rather clunky, especially in laughable lines like Hester stating her situation "isn't a tragedy. Sad perhaps, but hardly Sophocles." Moreover, Davies seems oblivious to establishing a discernible tone for his melodrama, as when Freddie flings a schilling at Hester and barks: "for the gas meter, in case I'm late for supper." The issue isn't necessarily these moments/scenes, themselves, but that Davies neglects to find means for presenting them with either a coherent, discursive manner or formal devices to further his aims and interests. The tone wanders, the focus lacks, and one gets the sense that the material has been rather dispassionately rendered - without the conviction that drives and propels the best melodramas towards a comprehensive, cathartic destination. When the music cues at the end of The Deep Blue Sea, it's as if Davies thought the viewer would do the work for him, projecting the needed emotive gaps since he neglects to proficiently enunciate precisely what is at stake in this love affair gone awry.

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