Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Film Review: Evening

"Evening" ** 1\2 (out of ****)

You really can't fault "Evening" for being a bad film. It pretty much does what you'd expect it to do, only it doesn't do it very entertaining.

The film was directed by Lajos Koltai. Koltai got his start working as a cinematographer in his native Hungary, working for director Istvan Szabo. Koltai though has started to veer off on his own and take the director's seat. "Evening" marks is second feature and his debut American language film. His debut film was "Sorstalansag (Fateless)" a World War 2 story based on Imre Kertesz award winning novel. How did Koltai go from that story to this one?

"Evening" is based on a novel by Susan Minot, who also adapted her own book along with Michael Cunningham. The story revolves around Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) who is dying. She is surrounded by her two daughters; Nina (Toni Collette) and Constance (Natasha Richardson) as her last moments go back to her first love, Harris (Patrick Wilson), who is the one that gotta away. From this point the film switches time frames going from flashbacks, showing us how Ann meet Harris and Ann now reflecting on the past.

The younger Ann is played by Claire Danes. Ann was to attend the wedding of her best friend Lila (played as a young woman by Mamie Gummer and as an older woman Meryl Streep). Ann has been dating Lila brother, Buddy (Hugh Dancy) but when she meets their childhood friend Harris, all bets are off. Ann and Lila are both hopelessly in love with him. Lila is so much in love with him that she tells him she would be willing to go away with him the day before her wedding if only she would ask.

For the first hour or so I enjoyed the film. I liked the characters, and was willing to find out more about them and how things would turn out. Danes and cast are all fine, especially on those rare moments when the script requires they do something and show some real emotion instead of just standing around. As the film switched time frames though I noticed I was always more interested in the modern story with the daughters' relationship with their mother.

"Evening" wants to be a sentimental, sappy weeper. A "chick flick" if you will. It has some of the right ingredients, but doesn't execute them correctly. There are no real emotions on display. We don't really come to love these characters. The film goes on about 30 minutes too long and I simply started to lose interest in these people when the story started to focus more on the flashbacks.

I liked the idea of an elderly woman about to die thinking back on the past re-examining her life. Some have said it is not realistic. Why would a dying woman only think about the man that got away not not her children or her departed husband? In realistic terms they may have a point. But luckily this is a movie and such a situation is ripe for sentimental romance. On some level I suppose all can relate to the theme of what if we let "the one" slip away. And that was what I liked about this film. But "Evening" doesn't fully explore this situation. By the end of the film it becomes a generational story among the mother and the daughters. One mistake leads to another. Children mirror they parents. Kind of, but out played out as expertly, like "Wild Strawberries" where we see a son about to turn into his father and the father's attempt to stop that.

And again I must come back to the question, why? What about such a story appealed to Koltai? He just isn't the right director for a story like this. It takes him out of his element. If he wanted to make a film in English he should have taken smaller steps. How about a story dealing with Americans in Hungary or Hungarians in America. At least then he could relate to the situation. In the whole crew only one other Hungarian worked with him, his cinematographer, Gyula Pados, who also shot "Sorstalansag" and other recent films such as "Basic Instinct 2" and a Hungarian film called "Kontroll". Pados gets some great shots and does make the film look like an old-fashion romance film but the look of the film is more beautiful than the story we are watching.

"Evening" may work for some audiences and that is fine. It is not a bad film just an uninspired one with far too many talented people working on a story beneath them.