Monday, March 28, 2011

Cracks - Theatrical Review


US Release Date: March 18, 2011

The Scott film clan which consists of brothers Ridley and Tony whom have given the film world some of the greatest achievements in both realm of art and your basic popcorn fare are now joined by a third member. Jordan Scott, daughter of Ridley, has made her feature film debut with a film involving an early 1900's all girls boarding school and how the darkest parts or our souls can be brought to light through our own carnal desires. But does she possess the same gift for creating captivating cinematic entertainment that her father and uncle do...?

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Laemmle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles
Time: 4:40 pm March 23, 2011
Projector Type: Film

Loves: Eva Green
Likes: Examinations on the human condition
Neutral: Period films
Hates: Overly long films
Fact: Director Jordan Scott is the daughter of Ridley Scott

Cracks, which is loosely based on a novel of the same name by author Sheila Kohler, goes into some very dark territory that I wasn't entirely prepared for. This is as mentioned the directorial debut of Jordan Scott. While it may take some time (or never) for her to shake the moniker of being the daughter of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, I think with Cracks she is well on her way to creating a rift that in the future will let her stand on her own two feet. Another point of interest is the films star Eva Green. I have been a fan of hers ever since Casino Royale and have eagerly awaited the moment when she would carry a film on her own. While I don't think Cracks works just because of her I cannot deny that her performance was easily the most captivating element in the entire film for me. With a first time director that has the support of two great filmmakers and a leading actress that is just begging to be noticed I went into this with some fairly high hopes. And while I can't say it is a perfect film, it is most definitely a dark and somewhat disturbing experience that showcases both the director and actress's talents.

The time is 1934, the place is England at what appears to be a rather prestigious all girls boarding school for ages ranging from mid to late teens. There isn't anything particularly unique about the school itself except for a small group of girls that have been allotted to the tutelage of a self-proclaimed well traveled and extremely eccentric teacher named Miss G (Eva Green). She has been given special permission to create a diving team with the girls and handles their training as well. All the girls idolize Miss G, with her stories of traveling to exotic locales around the world and how she lets them get away with things that are considered forbidden (such as reading banned literature) they just can't seem to get enough of her and she can't get enough of their attention. There is one girl in particular though that has become her star pupil, Di (Juno Temple). With the lavish attention that Miss G gives to Di it isn't surprising to find out that Di has developed a timid crush on her instructor.

Miss G and the girls cheer on their fellow teammates.

Everything in their tiny world at the school is seemingly perfect until the day when a new student arrives from abroad and is forcefully placed into Miss G's diving team. This new girl, Fiamma (Maria Valverde), comes from Spain and is used to living in the lap of luxury due to her aristocratic origins. It doesn't take long for the girls to take a liking to Fiamma though as she dazzles them with her worldly knowledge and exotic trinkets. Even Miss G begins to take a liking to her which leads Di down a road of jealously as she no longer commands the attention of her favorite teacher. However when their individual desires begin to overtake common sense the lives of Miss G, Di and Fiamma quickly spiral out of control as they try to obtain what it is that they each so desperately want and desire from each other.

Early on during one of their dive training sessions Miss G poses a question to all the girls, "What is the most important thing in life?". To which the answer is desire, a theme that pervades throughout the entire film. It is desire that fuels our deepest needs, the thing that makes us want to achieve our goals and also the one idea that can drive some people insane. Cracks explores some very dark themes with its examination of how desire effects the human condition. The innocent school girl crush on an authority figure or simply someone in charge and from all appearances is the smartest person in the room is a common occurrence for a person that has no adult figure to look up to in their life. While it is never really gone into in much detail we see that almost none of Miss G's girls have a life outside the school walls nor any parental figures.

Miss G desires many things in her life.

Miss G for better or worse preys on that need her girls feel for a role model. She knows that she is the most important thing in their lives and uses it to essentially quell her own demons. When we first see them as a group it is clear that they are all getting something mutually beneficial from this setup. Miss G gets the undivided attention and love from her girls while the girls get their role model and parental figure in Miss G. That perfect harmony is of course upset once Fiamma arrives and begins to reveal the chinks in Miss G's armor. Fiamma is a revelation to not only the girls on the dive team but to Miss G as well. At first Di, the self-appointed leader of the girls, sees Fiamma as a threat. This is especially apparent when Fiamma is forced to do her first dive and pulls off a stunningly beautiful one which sets a new standard above where Di had previously set it.

The problems don't arise from Di alone however, the real threat is the desire that begins to build in Miss G as she quickly becomes infatuated with the young and beautiful Fiamma. It was at this point where the tone of the film shifted from a human drama about the lives of these school girls and into what essentially becomes a Fatal Attraction scenario. I can see many viewers checking out of the film mentally once they begin to understand where it is all leading. This film goes to some dark places and uses some taboo subjects that if handled incorrectly could easily send the wrong message. While I don't really want to go into details about where exactly the film goes I do want to illustrate that if you have take any sort of issue with the depiction of molestation you will most likely find the proceedings appalling.

While there is definitely a gang theme with the girls it never really focuses on that aspect.

But I found that director Jordan Scott pulled it off. The touchy subject matter is handled in such a way that is definitely disturbing but also thoughtful (at least as thoughtful as it can be considering). I suppose I must get into a little bit of spoiler territory though if I want to defend what I have heard some refer to as, "romanticizing the idea of an adult taking advantage of a younger girl". When the moment occurs it is quite unsettling, but not just because of what we are seeing. It mostly has to do with how the scene was shot and presented to us. If someone were unaware of the actual story and wondering into the scene blindly it would probably come off as a very sweet and romantic love scene. The criticism of course is that a sexual act that ugly should never be shown as titillating which I agree with. However I believe what Scott was going for here was to put us in the mindset of Miss G and how she herself was imagining what was taking place. Any half competent person by that point in the film should completely understand that Miss G has got some mental issues that go way beyond just problematic and I found the way that this pivotal scene in the film depicted it from her perspective was both upsetting and beautiful.

Much of the praise for making that sequence and the entirety of the film work though must go to the actresses. Eva Green continues to impress me with each and every performance she gives. Even if the films she plays in don't really do her justice (Franklyn) her unquestionable talent always overcomes any possible faults I find with the material itself. Her portrayal of Miss G is nothing short of a brilliant depiction of a persons collapse into madness. When we first meet her she is so confident in herself and thinks she has everything she ever wanted. Once Fiamma appears though she begins a very slight transformation from protective mother, to friend and eventual stalker which Green nails. As she slowly enters a world of madness you start to not only fear for her own safety but more importantly the safety of the girls. Late in the film when she has gone completely overboard Green looks positively scary. With those beautiful shifty eyes along with the uncomfortable mannerisms she did crazy justice. I know I was mesmerized every time she was on screen at least.

Miss G admires her new student Fiamma a little too much.

The two main girls Juno Temple and Maria Valverde also did phenomenal jobs in their respective roles. While Temple had the difficult task of playing queen bitch most of the time (sense the sarcasm there) I thought she impressed mostly with the moments where she was in distraught over losing Miss G's affections and her internal conflicts about Fiamma. Valverde though I think is probably the one that will be overlooked by many because of her role as being the exotic rich girl from Spain. She did a good job coming across as a girl that had been pampered all her life but other than some key moments near the end of the film she unfortunately didn't have much to work with. She did what she could be unfortunately she was more the catalyst for what transpired more than someone we could identify with beyond the simple extents of not wanting to see a child hurt. The other girls were mostly background for the film and in that case performed admirably but once again they weren't the focus.

With Jordan Scott being from such an amazing pedigree it will come as no shock that the film itself is shot magnificently. The locale of the school is surrounded by lush forests, creeks and hillsides as far as the eye can see. I don't think there was a single scene in the film that felt wrong as the camera always seemed to know when to give us those close up moments with our characters or when to back off and let us soak in the beautiful scenery. This is especially apparent during the diving sessions when the girls are out on the lake using this old multi-tiered wooden diving board. Whether shot during the day or at night, every time we went there I found myself just lost in the beauty of the surrounding environment.

Broken hearts and fractured souls are commonplace in Miss G's class.

I hate to bring up any problems I had with the film after all that glowing praise but I feel as though some things must not go unsaid (especially with all the scathing reviews it is getting). Probably my biggest gripe is with the length of the film. It comes in at just under two hours but I couldn't help but feel like for a good portion of the running time it was just treading water as we waited for something that matters to happen. I can think of at least two scenes that contributed absolutely nothing to the overall plot that if cut out would have helped speed things along a little better. The other thing, and this may come off as a little hypocritical, is the subject matter itself. I know that I said that the film handled everything quite well but there was still a certain amount of distaste I felt after it all came to an end. And while I understand the meaning behind Di and Fiamma's part of the story I was still left with some lingering questions as to what exactly was wrong with Miss G that made her who she is. Don't get me wrong, there is closure for everyone but I feel as though I could have used a little more clarification about Miss G's past.

Bringing up others dislike for a film is hardly the best way to get a point across but I feel as though I have to in this case with it having a particularly low score on Rotten Tomatoes as well as other sites. But I just don't get it, the complaints have ranged from, "the film has no purpose" to "unintentionally funny". If they failed to grasp the simple concept of desire and it's effect on us then I am sorry for those people. I found Cracks to be a gorgeously shot, well acted (especially on Green's part), and deeply disturbing look at how we can so easily lose ourselves and hurt those around us based solely on our wants and desires. As far as a recommendation goes I have to give it a solid one. If you are interested in a well made period piece that deals with some dark subjects from what I assume is going to be a long and fruitful career from director Jordan Scott then give it a watch. If you find yourself turned off when it comes to such taboo subjects then maybe it isn't for you and you should steer clear. Regardless though I have to say...



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