We preview one of the most highly anticipated Australian films of the year...
The last time Geoffrey Rush played a struggling Aussie thesp, his co-star, director, producers and writer all earned Oscars in one of 2010\'s biggest critical and financial successes: The King\'s Speech. Even more impressively, Rush\'s new film The Eye of the Storm has even better pedigree. Based on the Nobel Prize-winning novel by Patrick White, The Eye of the Storm features an outstanding cast and is directed by the venerable Fred Schepisi (The Devil\'s Playground, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Evil Angels, Last Orders, Roxanne), a key player in the Australian New Wave of the \'70s and early \'80s.
Unhappily, though, this Australian production is not the return to form expected from the talented Schepisi, whose once-sure feel for compelling, credible drama and tone eludes him in his latest film, made over 20 years since his last film in Australia.
Brit import Charlotte Rampling is Elizabeth Hunter, a wealthy widow whose impending passing prompts the return to Aussie shores of her two children, Rush and Judy Davis (props to the casting department for the Rampling-Davis pairing, as they share an impressive physical resemblance, particularly in their upper-crust cheek-bones). Davis is the standoffish Princess Dorothy de Lascabanes, a divorcé who kept little in her royal divorce aside from her title. Rush is Sir Basil Hunter, a revered stage performer in Australia and overseas who has fallen on hard times after a poor showing as King Lear.
For over a decade in Hollywood, Schepisi established himself as an upmarket Bruce Beresford, gaining top performances from movie stars like Meryl Streep and Steve Martin, and consistently maintaining a convincing, interesting tone in comedies and dramas. Therefore, what is most disappointing - and surprising - about The Eye of the Storm is that Schepisi\'s direction is so flat-footed.
To be fair to the intentions of the filmmakers, they are clearly aiming for a complex tone: semi-absurdity and part-pathos, the filmmakers are suggesting the comic and tragic ways in which this family and their hangers-on try to escape/replicate their past. However, rare scenes work either dramatically or comically to this effect: for instance, a trip to the shore - which features heavily in the film\'s poster and trailer - manages to capture the intended combustion of drama and comedy of the family\'s ridiculousness. Mostly, the film is clumsily constructed on a tonal or visual level. Sequences involving the siblings\' social discomfort are more painful than painfully funny, especially those that involve Colin Friels\' appearance as a larrikin pollie.
It is difficult to know whom to blame for these issues. Writer Judy Morris (Happy Feet, Babe: Pig in the City) fails to sustain an intelligent or consistent tone throughout the film, as the screenplay jumps from poignancy to absurdity. Schepisi, too, shows difficulty, often stepping on some of the jokes with his laboured direction. This is evidenced in rather clumsy sequences involving a singing housekeeper, which suggest mockery more than the comic-pathos perhaps intended by the filmmakers.
For the most part, the actors are okay. Rush and Davis have essentially played variations of these parts for directors like Woody Allen and Tom Hooper, but they labour here without the benefit of a stronger presence behind the camera. Rampling, who spends most of the film lying down, establishes herself as one of the few foreign actors comfortable with the local accent.
For the most part, however, The Eye of the Storm is a disappointment.
The Eye of the Storm is released in cinemas nationally September 15.