Thursday, 15 October 2009

Review: Dorian Gray (2009)

Title: Dorian Gray

Rated: 15
Release Date: 9th September, 2009
Country: UK

Director: Oliver Parker
Starring: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Rebecca Hall, Emilia Fox

Rating: 3.5/5

Plot: A naive young man arrives in London and is quickly taken under the wing of Lord Henry Wotten and artist Basil Hallward. Inspired by Dorian's youth and beauty, Basil paints a grand portrait of his friend which is praised by all who lay eyes on it. Meanwhile, as Wotten encourages his young protégé to grasp life firmly with both hands and take advantage of every passion that comes his way, Dorian begins to notice that his wild activities are having no affect on his own body but on the picture in question. As the years go by, he begins to realise that while his outward beauty is everlasting, the ugliness of the portrait grows inside him.

Review: Rather than write up a very long and comprehensive review, I'm going to highlight what I liked and what I didn't like about this film.

What I liked about the film -

1) The casting of Dorian. Dorian needs to be someone that has 'obvious' good looks and youthful exuberance. I don't know much about Ben Barnes (as I've never seen the Narnia films) but I couldn't have imagined anyone else in the role. He has a beautiful face, great acting chops, and a good ability to carry the film.

2) The casting of Henry. Colin Firth shows that he isn't just the 'Mr. Darcy' man. Henry Wotten was always my favourite character in the book because he really didn't care what he said. Firth was brilliant. He gives the film its charm (without being charming).

3) The music. The main theme music to this film is spooky and haunting while giving you that great turn-of-the-century atmosphere. Brilliant. Probably my favourite thing about the film.

What I didn't like about the film -

1) The ending. They changed the ending in a more-than-obvious attempt to make it more 'movie dramatic'. I enjoyed the film up until this point. The ending to the film made me sick with its gratuitous attempts at making Dorian seem like a 'good guy' (whereas anyone who has read the book will know that while he remains forever young, he gets uglier and uglier on the inside - duhhhh, that's why it's a 'curse').

2) The addition of a character - Emily Wotten. So Henry has a daughter ... and she becomes Dorian's new love interest. Call me crazy but I'm pretty sure this is a made up character. I don't remember any Emily Wotten in the novel. And there are two reasons why this character doesn't work - 1) The character is unbelievably '21st century' compared to everyone else. I love Rebecca Hall but she struts around London with Dorian as though she's taken a time machine to the turn of the century. She's not believable as a Victorian young woman and that's probably because the writers threw her in amongst characters that had already been created. 2) The whole Dorian/Emily romance completely takes away the significance and tragedy of the Dorian/Sibyl Vane story.

3) The sets. They might as well have filmed this on a stage in the West End. Incredibly wooden and unbelievable sets which is very distracting when you want to believe that this is Victorian England.

4) The lack of subtlety. The beauty of Oscar Wilde's novel is his ability to write a sentence that could have five possible meanings. Homoerotic undertones and subtlety about Dorian's wild activities are not left to the imagination in this film. In fact, nothing is left to the imagination. And I mean nothing - even the relationship between Basil and Dorian. I've studied this book in university - the great thing about it is that you could sit there for hours in class having in depth discussions about the relationship between Dorian, Basil, and Henry. What does it mean? It is really a sexual thing? Are they just being protective and providing a guardianship to the young orphan? There's nothing in this film to provoke any thoughts - It's boldly put in front of you, and you have no choice but to go with it.

5) That line. Why oh why did they have to include one of the most overused lines in cinema?

Emily: What's your secret?
Dorian: If I told you, I'd have to kill you.

I could almost hear the eye rolling of every person sitting in that cinema. That line is not funny, nor is it effective. End of story.

Conclusion -
Overall, I did kind of enjoy the film. In fact, I very much enjoyed the first half. It was when Emily Wotten showed up and the whole second half changed that I had a problem. The lack of subtlety is something I could have dealt with because this is a film, not a piece of literature, but Emily Wotten's presence ruined everything for me. Poor Sibyl (and Rachel Hurd-Wood) - that storyline is completely overlooked and underplayed because of the new character. The film had really great potential and will probably be enjoyed by those who haven't read the book. Unfortunately, I found it disappointing and could only watch it again if I knew I wanted to switch my brain off and not take it too seriously.

The 3.5/5 goes to the first half of the film for having its good moments. The second half is best left unrrated. :P

Favourite Moment: Dorian's mother/daughter seduction within minutes of each another. I couldn't help but giggle.  


La Coccinelle said...

I've never read the book, although I'm somewhat familiar with the story. It's disappointing to hear that the filmmakers didn't really stay true to the original.

Amanda said...

I'm not yet reading this review, because I want ot see the movie first. Not that that's going to happen any time soon because last I checked, there wasn't a US release date. Ugh! So irritating! But I love the book.

Lauren said...

Great review! the movie doesn't come out here for a bit, so i'm glad to hear what you think in advance. I also loved the casting, so i'm glad it worked out!

Natascha De Marco said...

I read the book, and really want to watch this movie.

Great review girl =)

PS; Contest at my blog, check it out.

Ceri said...

Coccinelle - It might be worth watching the film if you haven't read the book. It's not a bad film but it's just very different from Wilde's style.

Amanda - Yeah, I heard about that. No US release so far :( That sucks. Crossing fingers for it though. I love the book too. :)

Lauren - Crossing fingers for an international release soon. You guys are being left out and it isn't fair. :(

Taschima - Thanks, hun. :) Want to enter your contest but I'm in the UK (international) unfortunately. :P

Jenny said...

I've heard mixed reviews of this film - still want to see it though because I have love for Ben Barnes & Colin Firth. I just won't expect much!

Sandy said...

It stinks that the movie didn't match up to its book counterpart but doesn't that almost always happen nowadays? Movies are never completely faithful (unless they're BBC movies!) I must confess that I too have a love for Colin Firth so that's how I heard of this movie. I've never read the book so... I'm guessing I'll enjoy the movie? xD

The Bookworm said...

It sounds like a good movie. Usually the book is better though.
lol about the corny overused line.

Ceri said...

Jenny - Ben Barnes and Colin Firth were brilliant (and what a dish that Ben is!). It's worth seeing but, as you said, don't expect a lot.

Penguin - I think this was made by the BBC too. Colin Firth was excellent in this, as was Ben Barnes. I think the script was a bit weak though. If you've never read the book, you'll probably enjoy it. :)

Naida - The book was much better but the film wasn't that bad. :)

Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

Thanks for the awesome breakdown review! It's really helpful for me to know beforehand if a book-movie deviates from the original story - makes it much more likely I'll relax and enjoy myself rather than nit-picking (lol!) I'm impatient to find out the release date though, since it played at the film fest here it will probably go straight to DVD.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Ben Barnes is so amazingly hot. I can't wait to see this. Nice review :)

Sarbear said...

Dang! I was hoping it would be better -- I will still see it though... but I'll rent it.