Possession

"Bad"

Possession Review


A.S. Byatt's Booker Award-winning novel Possession might have provided some literary delight, following two academics who track the love letters of a Victorian poet and his free-spirited mistress. That doesn't translate well to cinema, though. Neil LaBute's film adaptation boils down to a buttoned-down Gwyneth Paltrow (sporting her Academy Award winning faux-Brit accent from Shakespeare in Love) and square-jawed Aaron Eckhart running from one Masterpiece Theater location to the next (the library, the moors, the waterfall, the gothic archway, the castle wall, and the moonlit graveyard) all the while reading aloud from the correspondence of dead Englishmen.

While it might make a charming book-on-tape for the Oprah crowd, this "love loves to love love" hokum masquerades as a real movie. The present day academics exist in counterpoint to the period movie flashbacks (basically Jeremy Northam donning his suit again and looking forlorn, intercut with shots of his beautiful mistress Jennifer Ehle looking voluptuous and forlorn). And they talk, talk, talk about subtext within the letters; but they're actually talking about each other. Yes, it's When Harry Met Sally in the Library. So help me God, Eckhart's emotional revelation is when he asks Paltrow, "Is there an Us in You and Me?" (If I were Paltrow, I'd say, "I'll call you.")

LaBute attempts to create a parallel between the heightened romanticism of days gone by with the postmodern, chilly hustle and bustle of modern life. He's got a penchant for aloof yuppie scum, as evidenced in Your Friends and Neighbors and In the Company of Men, and Possession plays best as another example of, "People are real bastards nowadays, aren't they?" Eckhart's character doesn't want to get tied down in (cough, cough) relationships, living happily as a bachelor and lone ranger. Paltrow, on the other hand, expresses her character through a tightly wound hair-bun and shrill, me-so-bitchy line readings. It's hardly worth noting the Northam-Ehle period scenes, since they're mostly done in the form of pretty montages. They might as well exist inside a snow globe Eckhart and Paltrow are marveling over.

So why must we suffer through this kind of crap? I'd like to blame Miramax for running their period film adaptations into the ground with one lofty literary fiasco after another. As with anything else, some filmmakers and greedy producers noted the success of Howard's End and started the vicious cash cow cycle again. Now that they've plundered their E.M. Forster and D.H. Lawrence, they're moving on to modern writers like A.S. Byatt who dance to the same repressed Victorian groove. Possession is merely the latest, and most obviously packaged, of the lot. It's a Miramax film presented by a non-Miramax distribution company (Focus), which only says to me, "Good God, it's spreading." Studio player Gwyneth Paltrow takes the lead role, Neil LaBute continues his ascendance up the indie film chain, and Focus sticks with the tried and true: If people loved the book, surely they'll love the movie! Let's hope audiences show a little discriminating taste here.

The Victorians preferred the Macintosh.



Possession

Facts and Figures

Run time: 102 mins

In Theaters: Friday 30th August 2002

Box Office USA: $10.1M

Distributed by: USA Films

Production compaines: Gaumont, Oliane Productions, Marianne Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Fresh: 100 Rotten: 55

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Anna / Helen, as Mark, as Margit Gluckmeister, Heinz Bennent as Heinrich, Johanna Hofer as Heinrich's Mutter, as Detektiv, Shaun Lawton as Zimmermann, Michael Hogben as Bob, Maximilian Rüthlein as Mann mit rosa Socken (als Maximilian Ruethlein), Leslie Malton as Sara, woman with club foot

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