The Lodger Has Arrived:
Alert the Neighbors
On DVD 2/10/09
Alert the Neighbors
On DVD 2/10/09
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Instead of Ralph Fiennes ripping the dress off of Kristin Scott Thomas and then sewing it back together in amorous passion in Anthony Minghella's adaptation of his uncle Michael Ondaatje's novel The English Patient, Ondaatje's nephew--the debut writer/director David Ondaatje-- opts instead for a Jack the Ripper styled serial killer ripping apart West Hollywood prostitutes and then sewing them back together in a grisly mystery.
Obviously, the apple fell very far from the tree but Ondaatje's aim is true-- using the same source material that the master of suspense, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock employed for his 1927 classic silent film of the same name-- more specifically the 1913 novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes-- he decided to go for a more contemporary slice of Hollywood noir, paying homage to some of Hitch's most famous pieces of cinematographic trickery in an ultimately weak potboiler that wastes its A-list talent.
Seemingly working in the same vein as L.A. Confidential, Hollywoodland, and The Black Dahlia (with as many have noted a nearly identical poster to director Brian DePalma's awful mess of Dahlia) and blending together some elements of '40s style noir ambiance and mood, thankfully Ondaatje doesn't relish in the rather grisly C.S.I. or Dexter like elements of the string of murders on the Sunset Strip which finds organs neatly removed and matches Jack the Ripper's Modus Operandi perfectly.
Instead he tries to pay homage to the great Agatha Christie in a Murder on the Orient Express sort of presentation where every single character we meet seems shady and--much like the real Ripper case-- there's a handful of strong suspects we want to pin the murders on throughout but unfortunately with so many Christie like "guests" to his cinematic dinner party, there isn't enough substantive nourishment to go around so the actors get shortchanged and audiences are left starving for a much better resolution than the obligatory Psycho meets Shyamalan blend of "surprise" that he whips up.
Borrowing the same body-cam style utilized in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream in a few key scenes and trying to dazzle with fast-motion cuts that indicate the passage of time-- while the intricately story-boarded film and strict attention to a specific color scheme and emotional tone told through the inanimate elements from wardrobe and production design (all crafted by Franco-Giacomo Carbone) are first rate as evidenced in the behind-the-scenes featurette, unfortunately, so much dedication was spent ensuring that our main heroine Ellen (Hope Davis) blends into her muted surroundings in a 1908 home that in the end, it all felt far too claustrophobic and lifeless.
While Alfred Molina's West Hollywood cop Chandler Manning investigates the series of murders with his up-and-coming handpicked partner Street (What We Do Is Secret's Shane West) and find their case falling under professional and public scrutiny when FBI profiler Rebecca Pidgeon and Philip Baker Hall oversee every move since the crimes seem to all fit the exact same style as ones for which a decidedly now innocent man was executed-- Ondaatje unevenly balances that action with the stuff of '40s melodrama involving the film's title.
As Ellen, the mentally unstable housewife who speaks to her imaginary child, Hope Davis is given a mostly thankless role but it's at least a step above the one embodied by both her security guard husband played by Donal Logue and new secretive yet seductive lodger, Simon Baker. When more evidence about the deaths is revealed and they begin to tie together neatly with the Ripper case as an intricate copycat maniacal puzzle, Molina's Channing becomes dangerously obsessed and Ellen realizes that the killer could very well be occupying her residence.
Pretty ho-hum for a thriller, overall The Lodger is one that may have played infinitely better debuting on Dexter's home channel of Showtime. And despite the fact that the cast is magnificent elsewhere yet under-valued here and Ondaatje's clever ideas and intricate puzzle is admirable if muddled in the execution and man, will viewers feel angered by the easy "cheat" of the ending which makes zero sense at all other than to try and startle, it still manages to surpass DePalma's trashy Black Dahlia. It does this by slowly (and I mean very slowly) building up enough tension that makes the last thirty minutes genuinely riveting... until that is, Ondaatje's script takes an easy way out in deciding whom to pinpoint for the murders.
However, granted for a Ripper styled film, it's still much easier to absorb than the superior yet grisly Hughes brothers work From Hell but unfortunately, nowhere near the same league as its Hollywood noirs L.A. Confidential and Hollywoodland since it's uneasy repetitive night shots of faceless hookers being dragged off to their death makes a strange bedfellow to Ellen's Leave It to Beaver styled life during the day.
Although it's never a good idea to tackle superior Hitchcockian material, Ondaatje gets bonus points for trying to do something new with it and the Saw lensman David A. Armstrong (who amusingly confesses on the DVD that he doesn't even like gore) deserves a special mention for making the dull work filmed during a breakneck twenty-five day shooting schedule look as A-level as its cast and Ondaatje's extensive storyboards.
Yet, unfortunately it's doomed from the start given its sleepy pace and tired plotting as the uninspired, overly stiff performances ultimately feel as though they were drawn in in conversational clouds on those very same storyboards. So in the end, for my preferred version of slicing and stitching, you'd be better off sticking with Mr. Fiennes at least until we get the second chance to view another film by David Ondaatje.