Review: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

~ Robert Burns, "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough"

Last Thursday, I caught the premier of the British indy crime film, The Disappearance of Alice Creed at the Alamo. It's impossible to do this movie justice in a review without spoiling it. So, I'll keep the plot outline simple. If you're interested in the movie, the trailer is at the end of the post.

The film starts with two British (I can't tell if the accents are English, Welsh, Irish or Scottish - all those pasty snaggletooths look and sound the same to me) criminals named Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan), carrying out elaborate preparations for an impending abduction. We follow the two men through an unsettlingly silent montage in which they steal a get-away van, purchase ominous supplies like rope and sound-proofing material, and then meticulously prepare the van and fortify their apartment for the kidnapping.

The third and final character, Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton), first appears as a kicking-and-muffled-screaming bundle of victim being tossed by Danny and Vic into their carefully-prepared van. The sequence that follows further demonstrates how elaborate and meticulous are the kidnappers' preparations. These guys have thought of everything: how to dispose of the clothes worn during the abduction; how to keep trace evidence out of the van; how to avoid the police tracking their calls; even how to let Alice take a piss without leaving the sound-proofed room. Once they've got Ms. Creed chained and roped to the bed, there's nothing left to do but collect the ransom.

And that's where everything starts to unwind.

What ensues is a plot with more twists than a trilene knot. Like the 2002 Texas - Texas Tech game, the upper hand switches so frequently that the reversals-of-fortune become expected and, thus, predictable. So predictable, in fact, that the theater was filled with audible groans and words of exasperation such as "Whaaaaat?" and "Give me a break..." throughout the film's climactic finale.


The grippingly twisty trilene knot

Aside from the predictability of impending "surprises" generally, at least two of the film's major revelations were specifically mishandled. Soft landings steal the impact from plot twists. One of the major "OMG! WTF?!?" moments in the movie was revealed so gradually that the audience had ample opportunity to overcome its shock before the money shot finally appeared. Another was ineffective because, up to that point, the audience was given too little information about the characters to genuinely find the revelation surprising.

Enough complaints. What does this movie have going for it?

For one thing, you get to see the lithe Arterton lying completely naked on a bed, which should be enough to convince most of our readers to gladly pay the $10 admission. The fact that she's not only naked, but tied helplessly to the bed with a ball-gag in her mouth should shoot Alice Creed up to the top of HenryJames' list of must-see films (just below Human Centipede, but slightly ahead of Spinners with Big Juggs).

For all its failings, the movie was beautifully acted and shot. Each of the three cast members was superb in their role, with Marsan's performance really shining. And the concisely-named J Blakeson did an excellent job in his role as director.

But possibly the best aspect of the film is Cathy Davey's hauntingly-beautiful song, "Holy Moly." To me, Davey sounds like Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, backed by Jefferson Airplane.

It's really a shame that the writer (also J Blakeson) let the peripetian screenplay get so out of control. The cast and director terrifically executed a story built on a solid premise, but lacking a tight narrative. What could have been a remarkable film will instead prove just another forgettable member of its genre. As my friend commented while leaving the theater, "I feel like I've seen that movie three times at the SXSW festival. They're always the same."

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