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IN SHORT: All style and empty at the center. [Rated [R], 110 minutes]
I find myself using the phrase "can't see the forest for the trees" a lot, lately. In terms of these pages, it usually means that a writer/director (and the phrase always seems to take aim at writer/directors) has focused on the specifics of creating his film masterpiece that certain elements, like the logic of a story, are overlooked. Such is the case with Eye of the Beholder, which is beautifully designed within an inch of its life, right down to tempo and mood of the songs that accompany wordless sections of film. For at least two thirds of it, this is enough to keep everything interesting. Then the flick collapses under the weight of the ludicrous twists and turns of the story. Simply, portraying psychological meltdowns is a sticky wicket regardless of the talent of the creative team.
For the hour or so before it is to laugh, Eye of the Beholder is a sumptuous and stylish piece of work. Our star is a Key investigator of some type for the British embassy in Washington DC code-named The Eye (Ewan McGregor). He carries the latest in long distance eavesdropping and high quality photosnooping and computer communications equipment. Eye's investigations are audio feasts of filters and broken language and shotgun microphones built into rifle stocks and lots of other things that would mean nothing to anyone other than us ex-sound engineers, or James Bond fans who drool over the latest spy gear. Give a nod to w/d Stephan Elliott on this aspect, all the stuff you see actually works. Yee hah.
In terms of mental stability, though "The Eye" ain't. His only contact with the office comes by means of an enabling controller named Hilary (kd lang) who patches live vid feeds to his computer and monitors his activities. The top of The Eye's To Do list is a simple surveillance of the boss' son, suspected of ripping off a trust fund. Yes indeed, he is, turning the proceeds over to a lovely young American lass, Joanne Eris (Ashley Judd) who has great plans for the evening, including plastic sheeting on the floor, lots of booze, a strip down to various Victoria Secret's unmentionables and a well placed blindfold and the implication of feather stimulation to ecstasy. As the foreplay builds in intensity to utter bliss and fulfillment, the young lady wishes her "daddy" Merry Christmas, and hacks him to death with a six inch butcher knife. Guess that's one kid that won't be ripping off his trust fund from now on.
Case closed? Not even. I guess there's just something so appealing in watching an underwear clad lovely hack a rich boy to death that The Eye listens to the little voice inside ("Let her go, Daddy") and, essentially, does nothing. That little voice by the way, is The Eye's personal hallucination -- a daughter he hasn't seen in seven years. The wife is considered AWOL by the Embassy; the Eye refers to this daughter as an "Embassy Kid" and neither of those clues is of any help to the audience, except for establishing that McGregor's character is just as close to the edge as Judd's character is over it. As the movie progresses, that edge blurs as surveillance becomes obsession.
There is symbolic meaning to a whole passel of various images that run throughout the flick. Astrology signs, horoscopes, pendants, the snowy shake 'em up globes that tourists collect; these don't build to a revelation, though they do deliver a good punch line or two as the chase moves all across these great United States and up into Alaska.
Genevieve Bujold appears almost out of nowhere as the Shrink Who Knows All but Can't Explain It in terms the audience understands. Judd does the best she can to maintain character even while the settings around her change willy nilly. There's no explaining Ewan McGregor's crackup from surveiller to protective stalker, at least nothing in his performance, and Chrissie Hynde whines through a couple of songs spread throughout the piece.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Eye of the Beholder, he would have paid...
Midweek rental range. Strictly for film students to study on tape, that for the style of the construction, which is quite lovely. Then again, Ashley Judd did gangbusters starring in Double Jeopardy, which wasn't all that much better but had a clearer storyline, so we'll see if there's anything to her star power.
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