Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Chuck Koplinski Reviews "The Fountain"

The following review was written by Chuck Koplinski for the latest film from director Darren Aronofsky, "The Fountain."

The Fountain - 1 ½ Stars

Rated PG-13 – Running Time 1:36

By Chuck Koplinski

It’s rare that a film as personal as Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain is produced and released by one of the major Hollywood studios. In a town where hedging your bets on the success of a film has become a business unto itself, there’s little room for movies that feature fractured storylines, mystic undertones and a trippy ending out of the ‘60s. Yet, it’s obvious that Warner Bros. wants to be in the Darren Aronofsky business as they’ve given him free reign with this film, a work that is undeniably ambitious but horribly flawed. While there are a few things to recommend it, most notably its fantastic visuals, the movie is undone by a sophomoric approach to its metaphysical subject and an embarrassing turn from one of the movie’s most reliable actors.

Set in three different eras, The Fountain focuses on one man’s search (or more accurately, the same man re-incarnated) for the secret to immortality. In Spain during the Renaissance, a conquistador by the name of Tomas is sent by the Queen to find the Tree of Life that’s believed to be in the Mayan territory they’re busy conquering. With the promise of her hand and the country’s political superiority if he succeeds, the good soldier dutifully accepts his charge. Meanwhile, in the present day, Dr. Tom Creo is a driven researcher searching for a way to stop the growth of the brain tumor that’s killing his wife Izzi, an author who’s coincidentally working on a book about a conquistador searching for the Tree of Life. We are also witness to a tale unfolding in the future concerning a lone man who’s been charged with keeping the sacred tree everyone’s searching for alive in a transparent floating space orb. He’s routinely visited by the vision of a woman who urges him not to give up his mission.

In each story the couple in question is played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and their performances are a contrast in styles that clash horribly. Jackman has developed into an actor of some diversity but he’s not immune to choosing bad scripts (Swordfish) or giving a bad performance (Van Helsing). Here he eschews restraint as if it were a fatal disease delivering an overwrought performance in each of the film’s storylines. While he can be forgiven a bit for his macho turn as the driven conquistador, his obvious, over-the-top choices in the film’s other two segments come off as amateurish and, at times, embarrassing. One would think that Aronofsky would have been wise enough to rein him in, but perhaps he was distracted by Weisz and the other visual delights in the film. (The director and actress were married during the making of the movie.) While Jackman raves, his co-star gives a confident, assured performance, knowing that there’s no need to shout to make an impact when you’re able to display a degree of conviction in your performance.

While the lack of chemistry between its two leads is a detriment to the film, its biggest stumbling block is Aronofsky’s script. The connections between the three storylines hold little mystery, though the way the director cuts them together we’re led to believe that a major revelation will be unveiled in the end. It’s obvious where this is all headed and the simplistic, clunky dialogue that the cast is forced to deliver doesn’t lend a degree of realism or gravity to the proceedings. Instead, unintended laughs are elicited instead of gasps of awe or tears of remorse, which undercuts the entire film.

To Aronofsky’s credit, the film is a visual knockout, a combination of traditional set design and clever animation overlays (the outer space effects were created by optically printing microscopic chemical reactions captured in Petri dishes). Whether it is the Spanish court, the modern apartment in which the Creo’s live or the tiny futuristic space colony, this is one of lushest films to hit the big screen in a long time. Equally impressive are the visual allusions that connect the three storylines. Observant viewers will note the small glimpse of elements that pop up throughout and will be rewarded in the end to see them all time together in the end.

I’m sure that philosophy experts will be able to make more connections with the many reincarnation motifs that populate the film and draw more conclusions regarding its mystic, meditative themes than the average viewer. Be that as it may, even they won’t be able to overlook the film’s sophomoric dialogue, Jackman’s awful performance and the movie’s ponderous pace. Without question, The Fountain is an audacious work brimming with visual delights but its flaws far outweigh its many assets resulting in a curious personal vision that should have remained just that.


At 8:54 AM, November 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to both Hugh Jackman and Darren Aronofsky, the director drove his actors to display the intensity of emotion that you criticize. Apparently what you consider over the top in Jackman's portrayal was what he wanted in his film.

btw, Aronofsky and Weisz were not married during the filming and are not married now. I'll refrain from getting any pickier than that in my comments

At 7:25 PM, November 22, 2006, Anonymous jackson said...

I had such high hopes for Aronofsky. The Kubrick of the 21st Century. "Requiem for a Dream" still leaves me speechless everytime I see it...

At 11:01 PM, November 22, 2006, Blogger Chuck K said...

I stand corrected - You are right, Weisz and Aronofsky are only engaged.

As for Jackman's performance, it is his responsibility to bring a degree of realism and sincerity to his performance, whether it be the director's instruction to be subtle or intense. In this reveiwer's humble opinion, as talented as Jackman is, his false moments outweigh his sincere ones here.


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