If you are looking for a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat detective
thriller then you are in the wrong place.
a murder mystery, the death that takes place isn't really the
mystery that needs to be solved. Most of the conflict, character
development and plot centres around the heroine, Jill Fitzpatrick
(Susie Porter), and her struggle to maintain professionalism and
focus while being assuaged from all sides by Diana (Kelly McGillis),
who is nothing short of a sexual predator.
The detective plot is almost irrelevant. It serves to pull us
from character to character and between scenes, but it isn't much
more than a distraction. We pretty much know who killed the girl
from the outset and we spend most of the film waiting for our
detective heroine to catch up with us. Diana even coldly taunts
Jill her on her blindness by commenting that she is a fabulous
lover, but a mediocre detective. From what I saw, I found myself
However, Jill's prowess as a detective really isn't the point.
I found that it was her prowess as a human being that was more
effectively coming under scrutiny. In Samantha Lang's moody drama,
we see the ability of sex (I refuse to call it love) to totally
blind a person to the truth. Diana becomes an overwhelming presence,
more so because she remains so emotionally elusive. Jill wanders
around in a world that is alien, being led astray by a woman who
is not as she appears, trying to find secrets to a murder not
even being very effectively covered up. In fact, it seems as if
everyone but our detective knows who killed the girl, and they
are just having fun playing cat and mouse with Jill to see how
long she will run around in circles.
On a technical level though, The Monkey's Mask
is a beautiful film; visually exciting and poetic. Dorothy Porter's
original poem-novel was never going to be easy material to adapt
for the screen. As you watch you can almost feel the screenwriter's
struggle; how much poetry do I include? What needs to be said
with a narrative feel? How can you get across an essentially roughneck
character with little poise and grace using language that is both
exquisite and articulate? This was the challenge of The
Monkey's Mask. I loved the way this was handled. There
was precisely the right balance of narrative and poetic dialogue,
with the poetry reserved mainly for voiceovers from Jill's perspective.
Like all films that try to be "clever", this film is
going to polarise viewer opinion. Like it or hate it, it's easy
to appreciate Lang's meticulous attention to detail, in some ways
reminiscent of Lisa Cholodenko's work in High
Art. I was especially impressed with her handling
of the sex scenes, with the sexual dominance shifting from one
woman to the other as the story progressed and the tension heightened.
I was initially dubious about the casting of Kelly McGillis as
Diana, but she grew on me and there is no doubt she played her
lesbian scenes with commitment. Susie Porter as Jill was just
the right combination of street smart, spunk and vulnerability
to make the character appealing. Marton Csokas (who I always think
who is building an awesome career) was also terrifically slimy
as Nick, Diana's husband.
I'm torn as to whether or not reading the poem-novel first is
a good or bad idea. I read it first, and it certainly contributed
to my feeling that the poetry was every bit as important as the
murder mystery. It also means I probably can't accurately judge
how predictable the film was as a murder mystery since I already
knew who the killer was. Other critics who have not read the source
material found the lightness and transparency of the murder investigation
distracting and annoying.
Whether you read the novel before or after seeing this film,
just make sure you read it, because the film and the book may
share themes, but they are vastly different experiences.
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