Tag Archives: Paul Bettany

Creation (2009, Jon Amiel)

Creation is the not the story of how Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) and the ghost of his oldest daughter (Martha West) collaborated in the writing of On the Origin of Species. That story would make a much better movie.

The film opens with a title card explaining it will be about Darwin writing that book, released in 1859. Some conversation early on places the present action in 1858. So a year. At this point, it’s been twenty years since he published Voyage of the Beagle. Some of those adventures show up in flashback–a flashback’s flashback–as Bettany recounts stories to West.

Well, at the beginning. Then not. The Beagle flashbacks are the biggest budgeted sequences in Creation and director Amiel treats them as set pieces. Only then such flashbacks (in flashbacks) stop and so do set pieces. Instead, it’s just Bettany hanging around at home, making churchy wife Jennifer Connelly real upset with his blasphemous manuscript and research. It seems like this narrative floundering is covering a lot of time but it turns out it isn’t. Amiel and screenwriter John Collee are terrible at pacing. Why do they need pacing when they can have Bettany talk to West (not an actual ghost, just a narrative contrivance). If only the exposition moved the film along.

After a promising first act, Creation settles into that “ghost” story. Amiel and Collee tease out details of West’s death in the present while flashing back, at first, to unrelated family bonding scenes. The flashbacks eventually get confusing because Bettany’s makeup for Darwin age forty-nine is bald with stringy hair, very pasty skin, a paunch. The film skips back seven and eight years to the West flashbacks–those seven actual years in between Darwin’s daughter’s death and the Species’s completion are apparently empty of worthy story material. Darwin age forty-two makeup is bald with stringy hair, mildly pasty skin, general nineteenth century upper class flab. It’s not hard to tell them apart, but only because Bettany’s good. But in terms of filmmaking–Amiel’s direction, Jess Hall’s flat photography–well, it’s good they have Bettany.

Also because it’s an entirely thankless part. Collee’s script is deceptively worse than first impression. It’s not bland biopic stuff, it’s bland biopic stuff without any characters. Amiel, whose direction is never better than mediocre (outside the special effects sequences of animal decomposition and so on), he at least tries occasionally. He really likes his close-ups. So the actors can spout either ominous lines (because of hiding daughter West’s fate in flashback) or exposition.

While Bettany’s got it bad, he at least gets to walk around in his make-up. Connelly is left to take care of the kids and give disapproving looks when Bettany doesn’t take his “war on God” seriously. And Connelly never really gets a role. She ends up with one poorly written, well-acted scene. It’s exceptionally impressive filmmaking from Amiel, Hall, and editor Melanie Oliver. It’s this entirely manipulative, cheap, soapy scene and it still works. Because Bettany and Connelly. Connelly gets some character motivation at what might as well be the end of the movie. There’s still more movie and it’s bad, but that moment is when Creation could’ve got out in the black.

But it doesn’t. Because Amiel and Collee are entirely artless with Creation. They want all to benefits of melodramatic contrivances without ever embracing those contrivances. There’s also the issue of how the film characterizes the religious. Caricaturizes. Connelly and Jeremy Northam (extended cameoing as the village clergy) are inappropriately villainized. But meaning they need to be villainized differently. There’s no dramatic fodder in it as is.

Bettany’s good. Not great. Better than decent or fine. West is decent. Connelly is problematic; the part’s crap. Northam’s cameo is too thin. Ditto Toby Jones. He’s bombastic though. Energy is a lot in Creation, as the film stops producing any once the second act hits. Benedict Cumberbatch is good. He tries.

If there’s a great film about the final year of Darwin writing Species, Creation sure ain’t it. Amiel’s just too bland a director to save the film from the script. It could’ve at least maintained mediocre, but as it becomes more and more clear how bad Collee’s plotting and pacing is going to get… well, mediocre’s way out of reach.

The awful Christopher Young score doesn’t help either.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Amiel; screenplay by John Collee, based on a story by Amiel and Collee and a book by Randal Keynes; director of photography, Jess Hall; edited by Melanie Oliver; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Laurence Dorman; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Icon Film Distribution.

Starring Paul Bettany (Charles Darwin), Jennifer Connelly (Emma Darwin), Martha West (Annie Darwin), Jeremy Northam (Reverend Innes), Benedict Cumberbatch (Joseph Hooker), Jim Carter (Parslow), Bill Paterson (Dr. Gully), and Toby Jones (Thomas Huxley).


RELATED

Advertisements

A Knight’s Tale (2001, Brian Helgeland), the extended cut

I’ve always found A Knight’s Tale’s lack of popular (or critical) success surprising. Besides the obvious–Heath Ledger when he was still doing the young Mel Gibson thing, only mixed with a more mature Gibson’s consciousness of his charm–it’s absolutely hilarious. Helgeland had a problematic relationship with Gibson, but certainly knew how to write for him (Conspiracy Theory) and he knows how to write for Ledger here.

Helgeland’s script is also impressive in how it portrays its villain. Rufus Sewell is as evil as any big film villain, but Helgeland and Sewell discreetly humanize him just enough he’s not intolerable to be around. The audience knows, watching the film, Ledger will best him… it’s just how he’s going to do it.

Unfortunately, the romance between Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon weakens the film. Helgeland just can’t figure a way to make it work and he just pretends it does. The film doesn’t lose its charm, but it does wobble.

The best thing in the film is Paul Bettany, whose performance as Geoffrey Chaucer is a constant delight. The entire supporting cast is solid–Mark Addy and Alan Tudyk are Ledger’s sidekicks, who take demotion in screen time once Sossamon shows up, but remain excellent. Laura Fraser is their girl Friday (who gets shortchanged in terms of character development). James Purefoy is good in a small part.

Helgeland’s direction is good without being extraordinary, but there’s not a bad shot in the film.

Oh, and the Olivia Williams cameo is wonderful.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Brian Helgeland; director of photography, Richard Greatrex; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Tony Burrough; produced by Todd Black, Helgeland and Tim Van Rellim; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Heath Ledger (William Thatcher), Rufus Sewell (Count Adhemar), Shannyn Sossamon (Jocelyn), Paul Bettany (Geoffrey Chaucer), Laura Fraser (Kate), Mark Addy (Roland), Alan Tudyk (Wat) and James Purefoy (Colville).

Legion (2010, Scott Stewart)

So is it just a coincidence Legion came out while James Cameron was busy with Avatar‘s theatrical release and the Terminator rights were getting sold? I mean, someone’s got to be keeping an eye out for filmic plagiarism, right?

Legion is the first two Terminator movies with an Old Testament God thrown in (I actually do love how the movie, as near as I can tell, ignores Jesus and all that jazz). Well, I guess there is one big difference between the two–in Terminator, Linda Hamilton fell for the guy who moons over here. In Legion, Adrianne Palicki–who’s laughably bad in the Sarah Connor role–seems more likely to get with protecting Terminator (sorry, angel) Paul Bettany than she does the devoted Lucas Black.

Black gets a whole paragraph, by the way, because he was so good in “American Gothic” and Sling Blade. He’s kind of likable, playing a rube, but I recognized him not because I knew he was in the movie, but because he’s using the same mannerisms he had as a kid.

Good performances from Tyrese Gibson (who’s turning this whole stereotypical gang banger grown up thing into a career), Charles S. Dutton (big shock), Willa Holland and Jon Tenney. Bad performances from Kevin Durand, Kate Walsh (how much make-up can one person wear) and Palicki. Dennis Quaid needs his agent to stop with the character actor roles and get himself a TV series.

Stewart’s not a bad director, just a terrible screenwriter.

Blah.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Scott Stewart; written by Peter Schink and Stewart; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Steven Kemper; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Jeff Higinbotham; produced by David Lancaster and Michel Litvak; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Paul Bettany (Michael), Lucas Black (Jeep Hansen), Tyrese Gibson (Kyle), Adrianne Palicki (Charlie), Charles S. Dutton (Percy Walker), Jon Tenney (Jay), Kevin Durand (Gabriel), Willa Holland (Audrey Anderson), Kate Walsh (Sandra Anderson) and Dennis Quaid (Bob Hansen).

The Da Vinci Code (2006, Ron Howard)

Hans Zimmer did the score for The Da Vinci Code? I hope he apologized to James Horner for all the plagiarisms (particularly from Horner’s two Star Trek scores and then Aliens).

I don’t know where to start with The Da Vinci Code, except maybe to say it’s the finest film of its kind. It’s actually amazing–even to me, someone who tried to watch Bloodsport–but The Da Vinci Code is the most soulless film I’ve ever seen. It’s not even in a bad way. It’s just perfectly clear absolutely no one involved with the film, from Ron Howard cashing his paycheck to Tom Hanks cashing his, cares at all about the motion picture they are making. The cinematographer–Salvatore Totino (whose work I am unfamiliar with)–doesn’t even care if the lighting in an interior (shot on set) scene matches. At the start, I at least thought–as Howard needlessly spun the camera around–the photography would be professional. It is not.

My degree in fiction writing is only at the master’s level; studying the fine work of Dan Brown is, I believe, a select post-doctoral program–possibly involving lots of French actors speaking English (Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou) and British actors doing poor Spanish accents (Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina). In other words, I have no idea if the most interesting aspects of The Da Vinci Code are from the source novel or from Akiva Goldsman’s magic quill. For example, Hanks’s apparent superpowers. He can do some weird thing where letters flash white and rearrange themselves. He can also conjure up holographic representations of the past or faraway objects. Tautou has a similar power, but she can interact with these conjured apparitions. Her powers are different, because she’s the descendent of Jesus. The movie never makes clear where Hanks gets his powers from, but it might have something to do with his hair looking really stupid.

If I were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas–and could pay someone to read the novel to make sure the elements aren’t in there first–I would sue Howard and company. The Da Vinci Code not only borrows full scenes from the third Indiana Jones and lines from the first, Howard and Goldsman go so far as to steal the Force. They steal the Force and give it to Tom Hanks and his bad hair. There’s something wrong about that one.

The film’s notoriety–and the Vatican’s denunciation of it–is misplaced. It’s such an absurdly terrible film, I can’t believe the Vatican didn’t get behind it all the way. Besides it being sacrilegious and all, it’s so stupidly handled, it’s not going to convince anyone of its credulousness.

The film is not, however, intentionally incompetent. It’s just such a giant paycheck for everyone involved (except maybe Goldsman, who did better writing work on his first great epic, Batman & Robin). Ian McKellen, so terrible in all the films he can’t stop lauding, is actually kind of funny here. Almost every delivery is mocking the film and the dialogue–one could really study the dialogue Goldman writes for Hanks… it’s particularly stylized and recognizable and atrocious; McKellen even goes so far as to mock Hanks, whose performance might be the film’s worst (except for Bettany, Tautou, Reno and Molina). Jürgen Prochnow, who has done the made-for-cable tripe Da Vinci belongs with, brings some humor to his performance as well.

I’m not exactly sure how Howard and Hanks, who made Apollo 13 for you know who’s sake, rationalized making this project. They didn’t demand it be good or even attempt to be good. The film moves well-enough, the frequent stupidity and the short scenes keeping up a decent pace, and surely some good screenwriter could have come in and tried to make something enthusiastic out of the material. With all the special effects and the terrible music (Zimmer sets a car chase to some classical movement in an astoundingly incompetent sequence), with Hanks summoning a miniature solar system, it’s bewildering. There’s a lengthy scene with Tautou and Hanks trying to find some hidden secret–the clues are all written in sweat, only visible under black light, all encrypted so only Hanks can decode them. Just to stretch this asinine scene out, there are three different messages. If only Hanks can read them, why not just one? Howard doesn’t even try to disguise the pointless material.

The whole film–given the competency of everyone involved (except Goldsman, who’s always awful)–is something of a mystery. It’s a fine example of the sad state of Hollywood filmmaking. But at least it’s really, really funny. I’ve never had a movie so vehemently refuse to engage my brain–I’m even considering writing a monograph about it, examining the film scene-by-scene.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Brian Grazer and John Calley; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing), Jürgen Prochnow (Vernet), Paul Bettany (Silas), Jean Reno (Bezu Fache), Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa), Jean-Yves Berteloot (Remy Jean) and Etienne Chicot (Collet).