Saturday, November 04, 2006


Death and the Maiden — for kids!

By Edward Copeland
Even a performance as good as the one Ellen Page delivers in Hard Candy can't make a movie as unpleasant as this one a film you are grateful to have experienced once it's over.

Page plays Hayley Stark, a 14-year-old who meets a 32-year-old photographer named Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) over the Internet and agrees to meet him. It's not giving much away that what would appear to be a standard cautionary tale about teens being wary of Internet predators turns into something else since 20 minutes into the film, it changes and you realize Hayley is setting Jeff up for some torture and punishment for his crimes against children.

The remainder of the film follows a rather predictable course as Hayley terrorizes Jeff, who occasionally gains an upper hand, only for Hayley to regain control again. It goes on and on and on this way. Directed by David Slade and written by Brian Nelson, after awhile you have to wonder exactly what their point is in creating this variation on films and plays such as Death and the Maiden and Closet Land. Entertainment is obviously not on their minds and that's not required in a good film — but there does need to be a point and after watching Hayley's sadism against Jeff, no matter how deserving, after awhile, you start to feel sorry for him.

Did they set out to make a film that inspires sympathy for a child predator and against one of his potential victims? Is Mark Foley their target audience? The film is hampered further by Slade's herky-jerky camera moves and editing which makes an already queasy viewer even more nauseous.

Page is quite good and Wilson, who has never done much for me on film or stage, does get some good moments here. However, all the fine acting is in service of a film that I didn't really need to see.


I'm in total agreement with you about Hard Candy. I'm really not sure what point the filmmakers are trying to make beyond going for shock value - after a while, the violence just feels gratuitous. I thought Page managed well given what an impossible role she had to play; I didn't feel I knew anything more about the character and her motives by the end of the film than I did at the beginning - the fault for that lies with the script rather than with the actress.

When you look down the list of new major male movie stars to emerge in the past decade or so - the Judes, Jackmans, and so forth - most of them are either British or Australian. Pitt, Clooney, Depp and Cruise are all north of 40, and the next generation of American male movie stars hasn't exactly emerged in full force - 1997 produced DiCaprio and Damon, and who have we gotten since then? Is Hollywood so hard-pressed for homegrown talent that someone like Jake Gyllenhaal can be considered the Great American Hope? I have to think that the film industry is just looking in wrong places, because Patrick Wilson, while not untalented, seems to have been put on this earth to make Bob Saget look charismatic and dynamic. Several critics, in reviewing the film Little Children (which I have not seen), say that is this precise quality of blandness that makes the actor's performance in that film so effective. I suppose the same argument could be made for Hard Candy, but - and feel free to call me old-fashioned here - I think it takes an interesting actor to make blandness compelling. I don't think it works the other way around - or at least, I don't think it did in Hard Candy as far as Wilson is concerned.
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