Wednesday, February 23, 2011
#67: Death and the Maiden
I had briefly mentioned in my review of The Ghost Writer on this blog about the longevity and the endurance of Roman Polanksi as a filmmaker. Death and the Maiden is a 1994 Polanksi thriller (his preferred genre) and is based on a 1990 Ariel Dorfman play. The movie serves yet another example of Polanski's rich body of work. The unique thing about the story is that it has all of 3 characters and is set in a single location.
The story begins as a fascist regime in South America comes to an end and a famous lawyer Gerardo (Stuart Wilson) is handed the reins to investigate war crimes on the country's citizens. His wife Paulina (Sigourney Weaver) has been one of the victims herself and still hasn't come out of her fearing self. On a stormy night, Gerardo and a visitor Dr. Miranda (Ben Kingsley) casually start talking. This strangely upsets Paulina as she recognizes the Doctor as someone who had tortured her during the days of the regime. Paulina now wants her revenge. Dr. Miranda pleads innocence and Gerardo is stuck in between as the confused husband who has to figure out what the truth really is. The movie has a steady buildup that escalates to a point of immense dramatic tension. Paulina is obstinate in her demand for justice and uses Dr. Miranda's unpreparedness as a guest to her advantage to extract the truth from him at gunpoint. With one staggering revelation after other, she lays down all the information on the table that seems to indict Dr. Miranda. Gerardo, however, as the rightful lawyer wouldn't let Paulina have her way without sufficient evidence. The suspense of whether Paulina is right or wrong is what makes Death and The Maiden an arresting watch.
Stuart Wilson as the helpless husband who has been confronted with painful stories of Paulina's tortures performs credibly. Sigourney Weaver, though a bit stiff, does reach out to a viewer with her pain and her need to dispense justice. She has been wronged is out to scorn Dr. Miranda and has the right level of vengeful attitude in her turn. The performance of the movie, though clearly comes from Ben Kingsley. He is erudite and polished and his body language and dialogues only add to his persona. The mystery and intrigue that is so much a part of Polanksi's films finds the perfect springboard in the character of Dr. Miranda who is the proverbial tough nut. With all the action being filmed inside a house on a stormy night, the movie has the right ambience to keep you hooked. The action is purposely claustrophobia-inducing and keeps you glued till the denouement. The last ten minutes however might just puncture a bit all the tension that had been built up till then and is probably the only weak spot in the movie.
But be that as it may, Death and the Maiden has got all the right ingredients for a time well spent. It's biggest strength of this movie that plays out like a symphony is that it has a master conductor like Polanksi as it's guide. He sculpts an unyielding film out of an already impressive story whose suspense will keep you guessing until the final credits start rolling.