Published Sep 9 2009, 10:38 BST | By Ben Rawson-Jones Director:
Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca HallRunning time:
Oliver Parker’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel The Picture Of Dorian Gray
is an enjoyable and suspenseful movie that has a surprisingly contemporary thematic feel despite its period setting. A revelatory central performance by Ben Barnes as the alluring title character, seduced by the equally impressive Colin Firth’s debauched statesman, certainly goes a long way to covering up a handful of minor flaws in the telling of Dorian Gray’s tale.
A non-linear beginning that jumps one year ahead reveals that Gray will develop some serious lifestyle issues, as we witness him dispose of a body hidden in a wooden chest into the River Thames. Once the creepy tone is established, full of dark, murky atmospherics within the London locale, the action jumps back to relate the arrival of the orphaned young man in the city - all fresh faced and innocent.
He soon falls into the social clutches of the hedonistic Henry Wotton (Firth) and agrees to pose for a painting by insecure portrait artist Basil Hallward - played with aplomb by Game On
legend Ben Chaplin. As Gray is sucked into a life of wild decadence and surrounded by admirers of his beauty, the painting begins to reflect his salacious activities by decaying itself. Yet Gray shows no signs of the ravages of time as the years pass and the bodies start to pile up. But will this enable him to be happy and content with his lot? Don’t count on it.
Barnes’s mesmerizing looks, haunted gaze and charming delivery are ideal for the movie, seducing the audience and characters alike. Combined with Wilde’s story and Parker’s direction, this enables the central theme about the preservation of youth and beauty to rise to the surface. Given the current state of our society and culture, with Botox and nip’n’tuck all the rage, we’re forced to confront our own views on the importance of the superficial surface qualities of the human being.
The bond between Gray and Wotton, later complicated by the advent of the latter’s daughter, provides an absorbing look at the fluctuating power relations between a father figure and surrogate son, which quickly changes to corrupter and corrupted. Their addiction to flesh-related pursuits, and the constant need for stronger sensations, forms a fascinating parallel to the contemporary actions of modern day drug and porn consumers – always on the lookout for stronger or harder material to upgrade to. Yet the sensations ultimately leave them feeling unsatisfied.
Sadly, the other supporting characters - particularly the love/lust interests of Gray - fare less well in the movie. Too often their development feels rushed, as if their presence is simply there to quickly advance the plot. Rebecca Hall, so marvelous in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
, is frustratingly denied much screen time as Henry’s daughter Emily - a figure created for the movie. Yet we’re clearly supposed to buy into the idea that she has a very profound effect on Dorian Gray, something more based on just going along with the flow of the movie rather than genuinely reaching these conclusions ourselves.
More breathing space was also definitely required in the company of Gray too, as his transition from saint to sinner feels similarly fast-forwarded. But such narrative choices are always going to be a tricky issue when adapting a novel for the big screen, or else an overlong running time will scare off the punters.
Despite some overly-exposed CGI towards the end, Parker instills a genuine sense of foreboding fear and menace throughout the movie with some crafty camerawork that often places the viewer in voyeuristic positions, like peering around a street corner at the unfolding action. The decision to give the mysterious painting a handful of carefully deployed point-of-view shots also helps to ramp up the tension nicely and lend an ethereal air to the events.
A thinking person’s horror movie, miles away from the dumb slasher flicks that clog up the cinemas, it succeeds on numerous levels and does justice to the source material. Both the visceral sense and the little grey cerebral cells are well served within the company of such a pleasingly ambiguous age-defying title character in the shape of Dorian Gray.> What do you think of the movie? Share your views