Holy Smoke Movie Review

It's so comforting to see a talented actor recover from the precarious heights of mass-market success. After Titanic, I was perfectly prepared to condemn Kate Winslet to the same pit of has-been obscurity Leonardo DiCaprio belongs in. Fortunately, Winslet didn't sink with the ship.

Holy Smoke is the entrancing story of two zealots on a collision course with fate. Ruth, played by Winslet, is a young Australian who finds what she believes to be the path to enlightenment through the influence of a Guru while on holiday in India. When Mum (Julie Hamilton) gets word, she cooks up a plot to lure Ruth home and hires top cult deprogrammer PJ Waters (Harvey Keitel) to bring her daughter to reason.

Once trapped by her family, Ruth agrees to spend three days with Waters, beginning a game of cat-and-mouse that blurs all boundaries between therapist and patient. The balance of power turns when PJ falls under Ruth's seduction, leading them both on a descent into madness that is disturbing, enchanting, and sickly hilarious.

Winslet is positively enthralling in her role, presenting an inspired encore to her 1999 performance in Gillies MacKinnon's Hideous Kinky. Keitel is intense and commanding, tapping into the same hardcore energies we saw in Abel Ferrara's 1992 shocker, Bad Lieutenant. For what it's worth, I'm predicting Oscar nominations. [Sorry, Robert - Ed.]

Once in a while, first-rate acting meets up with powerful directorial and cinemagraphic vision to make a truly great film and this time it's the audience who got lucky. Cinematographer Dion Beebe and director Jane Campion (The Piano) deserve strong kudos for this one. Also worth mentioning is the comic and bizarre contribution of the supporting cast, including Pam Grier (Jackie Brown). Sophie Lee (Muriel's Wedding) is a complete riot as Ruth's incompetent sister. I suspect much of Grier's work on this film is cluttering the cutting room floor, and her character is just never realized. Outside of this one shortcoming, Holy Smoke is a masterpiece. See this movie.

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Comments

Holy Smoke Rating

" Essential "

Rating: R, 1999

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