Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Dorian Gray (2009)

* *

(2009, Dir. Oliver Parker)

Rolling with the same macabre tonality as Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, but falling short of its intended horror, and lacking any conceivable depth or believable 'onscreen chemistry', Dorian Gray is a flawed, adolescent flick for indie fanboys and schoolgirls with posters of smooth-faced hunks on their pink bedroom walls. Surprisingly sly, high-handed and never trustworthy, Colin Firth is an excellent Lord Henry Wotton, and Ben Barnes is no match as a sreen presence. There are two memorable shots that frame the movie. Firstly, in the handsomely lit study, when Wotton's alluring eyes seek out the innocent and corruptible Gray, preparing us for his all-too-rapid defamation and debauchment; and later, the melancholy and fatigue in these same eyes, when he has, through his own encouragement and daring, lost control over his daughter and Mr Gray's desires. These are rare glimpses of the fierce attention to the human condition that makes Oscar Wilde's championing, Victorian novella so compelling a read.

The reversal of fortune in The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the most celebrated in English Literature. Yet after a single puff of opium, Oliver Parker's hyperbolic distortioning implies that Dorian Gray spirals out of control in an instant, and immediately forsakes his bourgeouis sophrosyne for personal hedonism: to put it mildly, a far-fetched transformation of our protagonist. Moreover, this is an imprecation of Wilde's masterpiece in character-development. There is a market for pretty, insubstantial actors like Barnes. Consider, for example, his shallow portrayal of Prince Caspian in the financially successful but painful-to-watch Narnia franchise: is it wrong to ask more from directors adapting the works of Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis in the twenty first century? After all, it was not so long ago that Peter Jackson and co recreated Tolkien's Middle Earth with boundless imagination.

The blame for our dull and dimensionless eponymous hero lies not with Barnes's forgettable performance, but rather with the film's hapless casting and drab screenplay. This is a disappointing debut from writer, Toby Finlay, and though the film endeavours to hook into the relationship between Dorian Gray and his portrait, this reviewer was irretrievably bored after all but fifteen minutes of its (very slowly) running time.

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