Review: Possession

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

All romances have the same formula, but with a small twist to make the romance stand apart from all the other romances. As for the twist in Possession they have intertwined a romance with a mystery. A wonderful idea and premise. But when the actual film has been made, it ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. What happened? Instead of creating the wonderful movie Possession should have been, director Neil LaBute has mucked up Possession to the point of indecipherability. The idea of combining romance and mystery is inspired. That is why I am so disappointed to see how lackluster Possession has turned out to be.

Possession is based on a book by A.S. Byatt. And while it is a beautiful story, it is obvious, even by those who have not read the book, that this story wasnít meant for the big screen.

Roland Mitchell (Aaron Eckhart) is an American in England studying famous 19th century poet Randolph Henry Ash. While doing research in a London library, he uncovers a letter to a mysterious women written by Ash himself. This is a particularly meaningful discovery because at the current time, Ashís poems are being celebrating in a centennial anniversary of sorts, and Ash was always known as a devoted husband. After more reasearch, he believes that the mysterious women Ash was writing to was poet Christabel LaMotte. To further his proof, he meets with LaMotte expert Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow.) Together, the two go on an adventure and begin to discover more and more about the romantic link between these two previously thought to be unconnected poets, and in the process begin to fall in love with each other.

I truly enjoyed how we spent half our time in 1859 and in 2002. We saw the relationship between Ash and LaMotte as Mitchell and Bailey uncovered the pieces of the puzzle. But on the flip side, the back and forth between the two times took something away from the development of both realtionships. While the affinity between Ash and Christabel is well drawn out, the relations between Maud and Roland is sloppy at best.

All mysteries require clues, discovery and plot twists. However, the clues, discoveries and plot twists in the discovery of how deep the illicit affair between the two 19th century poets seems to have been written by the writers of the original Scooby-Doo. The two sleuths find clues like they are Daphne and Freddy. This is understandable to a point, after all, they do have to create some cheap suspense. However, it is taken much too far. Mysterious boxes, clues hidden inside poems to the locations of other letters...I donít think so. The clues are not only overly caricatured, they are terribly confusing. I found myself asking my viewing partner several times to fill me in on what was happening. The connection from clue to clue is complicated (probably to compensate for the lack of complicity to the individual clues.)

Working against Maud and Rolland, are Professor Morton Cropper, and millionaire, and a sleazy Fergus Wolff. From what I understood, Fergus got a little suspicious of all of Rollandís research and the topics. Did a little poking around. Found something. Recruited millionaire Prof. Morton Cropper, and are determined to break the scandal first. The presence of these characters are totally unknown to me. They only work to further confuse the audience on what is going on. These two should have been left on the cutting room floor, or better yet, left off the script period!

Aaron Eckhart graduated from college with director Neil LaBute. He has appeared in LaButeís other directorial attempt, the whimsically cute Nurse Betty. So it is no wonder that he is here in LaButeís Possession. His character of Roland is not that far a stretch for him. He plays a stereotypical rough around the edges American, and does it fine. Unfortunately, his restrained performance when it comes to the relationship between Roland and Maud only hurts further the believability of the relationship as well as the chemistry between himself and Paltrow. Gwyneth Paltrow is the perfect choice to play Maud Bailey. She shows dexterity when it comes to such complicated and emotionally indecisive characters.

Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle play Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte respectively. They act their roles with tremendous grace and the utmost attention to detail. The two characters donít really have that many lines in comparison to their 21st century counterparts. Many are done in a voice over fashion, but they still are able to show love and anguish without words the overabundance of language.

The way that we see the relationship between Christabel and Ash develop as Maud and Roland find more clues is inspired and intriguing. Thaísts what makes it so hard to say that Possession could have really been great, but falls way short of greatness. The lack of simplicity to the mystery, and the lack of attention to the romance between Maud and Roland makes Possession something that we should be watching on PBS rather than on the silver screen.

If you are really interested in Possession, go ahead and see it. However, I recommend waiting for video, because the rewind button is really going come in handy when trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Either way, be aware that you will be viewing against my recommendation.

© 2002 Jake Sproul

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