Gosford Park Movie Review

If Robert Altman had been given The Remains of the Day, the end product might have looked something like this.

Gosford Park is the name of an English country estate, where, in 1932, a gaggle of royals and wannabes -- including a horde of locals plus a popular British actor and a Charlie Chan-obsessed Hollywood movie producer -- gather to attend a weekend hunting party. Upstairs, it's the usual hoity-toity, drawing room chitter-chatter, while downstairs an army of servants does little but gossip about the visitors above.

But the days of naval-gazing come to an abrupt end when one of the bigshots ends up stabbed to death. Or does it? Surprisingly, the gossip and jabbering don't stop. In fact, with the exception of a few cops investigating the murder, the conversation continues virtually uninterrupted (mostly about illicit affairs), in a droll fashion that only Robert Altman could devise. It's a simplistic parable for high society attitudes of the era -- perfectly willing to go about their business while the Great Depression raged around them, leeching fortunes into nothingness.

This curious combination of Merchant-Ivory and the movie Clue is part crowd-pleaser, part art movie -- which all but guarantees it won't find much of an audience. The characters are rich and a good deal of fun (thanks to inspired casting that brings underrated stars like Bob Balaban, Michael Gambon, Clive Owen, and Richard E. Grant under one roof), but with 23 major roles, it's hard to care about all of them -- and it's often even difficult to tell who's who (those '30s women's hairstyles were awfully monotonous). Thankfully, most of the performances are engaging without being over the top (a problem that doomed Altman's miserable Kansas City to the dustbin).

Unfortunately, the plots they appear in are stretched so thinly as to make them largely irrelevant and even interchangeable. Only a few characters -- like Ryan Phillippe's valet -- undergo even moderate transformations. (Which, it goes without saying, is the problem with having 23 leading roles in your movie.)

So who killed our bigwig? The characters don't seem to care, so why should we? If Gosford Park wants to be a clever murder mystery, it needs to generate at least a little suspense and make us care about the plot. Instead, the movie spends all its 137 minutes convincing us how dazzlingly intellectual it is. And you don't need me to tell you how annoying that can get.

I gave Gosford Park another shot on DVD, but still didn't have the patience for its histrionics. Still, the thing won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, so someone has to like it -- and aficionados will appreciate the deleted scenes, commentaries by Altman and writer Julian Fellows, and a couple of documentaries.

Park city.


Gosford Park Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2001


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