Girl With A Pearl Earring Movie Review

Director Peter Webber has such a mesmerizing command over the emotional resonance of "Girl With a Pearl Earring" -- a masterpiece film that imagines the story behind Johannes Vermeer's masterpiece painting -- that there are several moments in the picture so evocative, so stunning that they literally make you hold your breath.

One such moment comes as the Dutch master, played with alluring, untamed gravitas by the solemnly magnetic Colin Firth, cajoles his tentative, spellbound model -- a modest, reticent young housemaid (the extraordinary Scarlett Johansson) who has slowly become his muse and artistic confidant -- to wet her lips (and then wet them again, and again) as he readies her to pose for his most famous, most exquisitely lifelike and certainly most emotionally enigmatic portrait.

This scene is the culmination of an unspoken, unattainable desire between them and is a magnificent fusion of performance, intimacy and sudden, startling silences in Alexandre Desplat's stirring musical score -- the combination of which is a demonstrative potency that Webber manipulates at will.

The director holds sway over such powerfully visceral effects throughout this film, set in the beautifully gritty and gray, canal-traversed city of Delft, Holland, circa 1665, where Vermeer was fatefully beholden to a wealthy but lascivious and manipulative patron (played with oily charisma by the always terrific Tom Wilkinson) for his livelihood.

Into his household comes Griet (Johansson), a sheltered 17-year-old who has been forced into servitude to help support her family after her father, a journeyman tile painter, was blinded and badly disfigured in an accident. Johansson hardly speaks in her enthralling performance of tentative glances and internalized passions kept tightly wound under her simple white bonnet. Yet she portrays an enormous sense of wonder as Griet's natural acumen for recognizing beauty and composition draws her each day to study the progress of her master's paintings as she cleans his studio.

Recognizing a kindred spirit in the unadorned beauty's innate comprehension of his work, Vermeer is soon drawn to her as well -- a fact that sets in motion a tantalizing mentorship, the jealousy of his vulnerable and volatile wife (played to mistrustful perfection by Essie Davis), the spite of his most mischievous daughter (Alakina Mann), and the unnerving manipulations of his Machiavellian benefactor.

Adapted from Tracy Chevalier's speculative novel by screenwriter Olivia Hetreed, "Girl With a Pearl Earring" brings its 17th century setting vividly to life with humble costuming and imaginative, often metaphorical imagery inspired in part by Vermeer's work. Webber's fluid command of the film's heightened emotions proves more remarkable by the minute as Johansson (departing appreciably from her perfect modern melancholy in "Lost in Translation") and Firth ("Pride and Prejudice," "Bridget Jones's Diary") build a halting but inescapable yearning between them that is tested by thorny circumstances that lead to the painting of Griet's portrait and the acquisition of the famous earring at its focal point.

All this builds toward another of the picture's breathtaking moments, when Johansson strikes the painting's over-the-shoulder pose and her resemblance to its unknown subject becomes dramatically clear.

Just as the piercing poignancy of Vermeer's work of art can be felt influencing every aspect of the movie -- especially in Johansson's haunting personification of portrait's elusive potency -- the fictitious backstory of "Girl With a Pearl Earring" has such a vivid depth and breadth that it's hard to imagine looking at the painting again without being influenced by the film.

That is an exceptional testament to the power of this cinematic tour de force.

Comments

Girl With A Pearl Earring Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, NY/LA: Friday, December 12, 2003<br> LIMITED: Friday, December 26, 2003<br> EXPANDS: Friday, January 9, 2004

Advertisement

More Scarlett Johansson

Wait, Did Scarlett Johansson Name Her Baby After Golden Girls?

Are Scarlett Johansson and her her beau Romain Dauriac secret fans of the 1980's sitcom 'Golden Girls'? The naming of their new daughter suggests so!...

Baby On Board! Scarlett Johansson And French Fiancé Welcome A Baby Girl

Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson and her fiancé Romain Dauriac have welcomed their first child together, a baby girl they have called Rose. A representative for...

Scarlett Johansson Welcomes First Child With Fiancé Romain Dauriac

One of Hollywood's hottest actresses has now become a first-time mother. Scarlett Johansson and her French fiancé Romain Dauriac welcomed a baby daughter into the...

Robert Downey Jr Calls For 'Black Widow' Movie, with Scarlett Johansson

After Lucy, is there anyone left who doesn't want a Black Widow spin-off movie with Scarlett Johansson? Robert Downey Jr - a man with considerable...

Advertisement

Demi Lovato Praises Beyonce & Kim Kardashian For Revolutionising Perceptions Of Beauty

Demi Lovato has credited Beyoncé and the Kardashians with revolutionising how we perceive beauty. The 22-year-old singer recently posted an image on Instagram showing how...

'Lucy' Merges Bessons' Obsessions: Action, and Beautiful Women

Luc Besson is clearly a cinematic force to reckon with, invading our cinemas this year as a producer (The Homesman) and writer (3 Days to...

'Lucy' Is Fantastic, But There Will Be No Sequel, Says Besson

Director Luc Besson has generated modest acclaim for his action-thriller Lucy, though the Frenchman says it is unlikely there will be a sequel. Fans of...

Lucy Movie Review

Luc Besson gleefully combines two of his favourite movie elements - fit women and wildly insane action - in this raucous guilty pleasure. It's almost...

Advertisement