by Eric D. Snider
Released: September 3, 2004
"Wicker Park" shows the rarely seen negative aspects of stalking -- the obsession, the lying, the breaking and entering and so forth. It's about time Hollywood dealt with this subject matter!
This movie, truth be told, is a little more about obsession than stalking per se, but it has its fair share of the latter nonetheless. It stars Josh Hartnett, whose unibrow alarmingly grows and shrinks in size and magnitude from one scene to the next. This is particularly disturbing given how many tight close-ups of his face we are shown. Was there not a pair of tweezers on the set of "Wicker Park"? It is the unibrow that is most damaging to the film. Well, that and the plot.
The plot is that Hartnett's character, a Chicago photographer named Matthew, is about to leave for a business trip in China when he thinks he sees his ex-girlfriend Lisa (Diane Kruger) in a restaurant. They were madly in love two years ago (shown in extensive flashbacks), and then she just disappeared, never to be heard from again. And now she is apparently back, if indeed she was ever gone, and if indeed it's really her that he saw.
He drops everything and sets off in pursuit of her, following her trail to a hotel and then to an apartment. She does not live in the apartment, though; it is occupied by another woman with the same name. This new Lisa (Rose Byrne) is sympathetic to Matthew's plight. She demonstrates this by sleeping with him.
The director, Paul McGuigan -- experiencing diminishing returns after the stellar "Gangster No. 1" and so-so "The Reckoning" -- has such an engaging way of telling stories, cutting back and forth in time, shifting points of view, replaying moments from different perspectives, that it's a shame to see his skills put toward a movie with such a silly third act. He splits the screen, lets images blend into each other, fills every scene with mirrors and reflections -- in short, gives viewers a visual treat, a very sophisticated-looking film that is belied by its subject matter.
The first 80 minutes are actually rather intriguing, tantalizing, even -- why the random scene of Matthew's friend Luke (Matthew Lillard) on a date with an actress? -- as we wonder whether it was Lisa whom Matthew saw, and who this second Lisa is, and why Lisa was apparently seeing a married man. But then the mechanics of the plot go into overdrive, and the film's serious tone (personified by the uber-serious Josh Hartnett) becomes a liability. The events are pure farce: Person A calls Person B to complain about Person C, unaware that Person C has just left Person B's house and is attempting to call Person A at that very moment, and so on. It's zany -- but McGuigan doesn't play it for laughs. He expects us to still be along for the ride in an emotional suspense-thriller, not to have transferred over to the train bound for Wackytown. He'd have been embarrassed, I'm sure, to witness the hoots of laughter from a recent screening audience that giggled when he probably thought the movie was being very serious. (And the laughs weren't even coming from the critics' row! Well, not at first.)
The film, written by Brandon Boyce ("Apt Pupil"), is based on the 1996 French movie "L'Appartement." (It starred Monica Bellucci, which I suppose is why the restaurant that plays a pivotal role in the new film is called Bellucci's.) I have not seen the original film, but I gather from various Internet writings that it had a different ending. I wonder if the remake did, too, at one point. The ending it has is what the audience wants to see happen, but you have to leave a lot of loose threads dangling to get there.
Rated PG-13, some profanity, a brief bit of moderate sexuality
1 hr., 55 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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