By AMY NICHOLSON
By ALAN SCHERSTUHL
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
By R. Scott Moxley
* * *
With Timothy Treadwell, Herzog may have repossessed one nut too many, but at least he's been around excess long enough to respect rather than abuse it. Which is more than can be said of the countless young filmmakers who currently prey on our desensitized palates with accelerating degrees of gussied-up extremity. I hope to God that Patrick McGrath's novel Asylum, about a bunch of repressed Brits manipulating the stuffing out of one another in a 1950s psychiatric hospital, is better than the shallowly competent exercise in nastiness that British director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Patrick Marber have made of it. McGrath also wrote the very good novel Spider, which David Cronenberg made into an equally good film. As for Mackenzie, his unaccountable 2003 Sundance hit Young Adam was notable chiefly for a horribly convincing performance by Ewan McGregor in some of the more repellent sex scenes in recent cinema.
There's more of that in Asylum, and it comes hitched to similarly repellent physical violence. Natasha Richardson, looking very Grace Kelly in a golden chignon made for carnal mussing, plays Stella, one of those neurasthenic neo-noir women who survive on booze, cigarettes and the promise of adultery with a cad. The alienated wife of an ambitious psychiatrist (Hugh Bonneville) who has snatched a top hospital job from under a long-standing deputy (Ian McKellen), Stella has no interests or ambitions of her own, hates other women and shows scant interest in their young son Charlie (Augustus Jeremiah Lewis). And still we are asked to root for her, especially when she falls for Edgar (Marton Csokas), a wild-eyed patient who's in for the sensationally brutal killing of his apparently unfaithful wife.
Signs, portents and parallels abound, mostly in the form of shattered glass, and pretty soon all aboard are merrily destroying themselves (and others) for no other reason than to goose our jaded reflexes. Sir Ian hams away enjoyably enough as the disgruntled colleague who channels his untapped libido into Machiavellian power plays, and Bonneville, who played the young John Bayley in Iris, is excellent in the thankless role of the eternal cuckold. But Richardson, who's almost always better onstage than she is onscreen, is stiff and wooden in that uniquely Redgrave way, and Csokas—in a role originally meant for Richardson's husband, Liam Neeson—has little to do but smolder, shag and, when all else fails, slug. Bookended by wittily surreal scenes of a hospital ball, the movie is shot with the same rigor and beauty that went into making Young Adam. But rigor and beauty are nothing without a point, and if the point of Asylum is that a little romantic obsession goes a long way, 100 years of cinema have made sure that we knew that already.
GRIZZLY MAN WAS DIRECTED BY WERNER HERZOG; PRODUCED BY ERIK NELSON. ASYLUM WAS DIRECTED BY DAVID MACKENZIE; WRITTEN BY PATRICK MARBER AND CHRYSANTHY BALIS, BASED ON THE NOVEL BY PATRICK McGRATH; PRODUCED BT MACE NEUFELD, LAURIE BORG AND DAVID E. ALLEN. BOTH FILMS NOW PLAYING AT EDWARDS UNIVERSITY, IRVINE.
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