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IN SHORT: Best of the Year (so far)
Given that Cranky sees a hundred and fifty or so movies a year (well, that was last year, I'll try and do better this year) all the bad ones and the good ones tend to blur together. Only occasionally does one rise up out of the muck to surprise. Sliding Doors delivers not one but two surprises, one of which will floor you. This is one of the few times that Cranky's seen a flick in advance with other, bigger-named, critics and they were floored, too.
Gwyneth Paltrow gets to play a character two ways at the (almost literally) same time in Sliding Doors, an extremely clever and intricately written piece that demands almost constant attention to the screen. The price is a wee bit of fatigue as this "what if?" story plays out both possibilities of a life distracted by a little girl with a Barbie doll. That setup is a visual trick, which belies a grand vision put together by writer/director Peter Howitt, of a life irreversibly changed by the simple act of missing a subway train.
Sorry, tube train. We're in London where PR gal Helen (Paltrow) has just been sacked for boosting a couple of bottles of vodka from her office. Heading home early, she either catches or doesn't catch the train which leads to her catching her live-in lover Gerry (John Lynch) in bed with another woman, or meeting the true man of her dreams, or getting mugged.
Or, if you're not paying close attention, a combination of all the above. Jeanne Tripplehorn is the other woman, a real bitch of an American whose internal clock is obviously ticking very loudly. John Hannah is the man of her dreams, a Scotsman who rarely keeps his mouth shut and is fond of quoting Monty Python routines. Paltrow's character, mercifully and with an eye to the visual, cuts and dyes her hair in the aftermath of one of the what if?s so you can easily track which one is which. What's complicated is that, once you see a scene with her in a restaurant bar, the camera will shift location and you'll also see her waiting tables in the same place. This shift of identity and story focus happens constantly. It's absolutely brilliant.
This is Peter Howitt's first outing as both writer and director. The writing I've already raved about. The directing betrays some amateur mistakes -- end of reel flashes and the like -- which pass by quickly. There is nothing here to give me any reason to tell you to avoid this flick. Paltrow is terrific. Hannah is charming. The story is complicated enough that you'll be snapping this up on video to watch again and again when it hits the local shelves.
It's the first film of the year to make my tickler list for awards come the end of the year. It's that good.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Sliding Doors, he would have paid . . .
The deductions are minor: you'll start to get tired just before the major shock (which I won't spill) snaps you back to attention towards the end of the flick; and end of reel flashes bugger the hell out of me. Otherwise, Sliding Doors is highly recommended.
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