Emily takes liberties with Bronte's life; Marlowe has been there, done that; Devil's Peak is clever

Mood, acting save Emily

Actress Frances O'Connor is fully aware that her debut film as a writer/director, Emily, is the product of as much imagination as fact. To be sure, very little is known about Bronte's life, much supposition surrounding just what her inspiration was for her novel Wuthering Heights, the extent of her romantic life and just what led to her premature death. So, in a sense, her story is one that welcomes fact-based imagination to fill in the gaps. That being said, at times the liberties O'Connor takes here stretch the boundaries of logic and realism.

The film begins with Emily (Emma Mackey) at death's door and a series of flashbacks ensue that attempt to explain how a shy, repressed, brilliant young woman could have written a classic of English literature. Her mother having died when she was 3 years old, Emily and her five siblings were raised by their stern father, a curate who held sway over the conservative household with an iron hand. There's not much solace for Emily, and she spends an inordinate amount of time on the moors not far from her home. Perpetually overcast and windy, wild in appearance and nature, Emily is at peace here. Meanwhile, the arrival of William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a new curate to the parish that her father takes under his wing, stirs something dangerous and unknowable within the young woman.

To be sure, Emily is a good-looking, well-acted film that serves an interesting mirror-image of Heights. While the second act is a bit of a slog, overall, it is an immersive experience, the dark tone of the film impressive and inescapable. More than likely, you'll be digging out your old copy of Bronte's classic to revisit it with this context in mind. In theaters.

Marlowe a tired piece

Neil Jordan's Marlowe, a throwback to the movie mysteries from the 30s and 40s, is a tired production that looks great but winds up being an empty piece of work. The story is a retread of a retread, a by-the-numbers tale that seemingly goes nowhere because we've been there before...many times.

Philip Marlowe (a miscast Liam Neeson) is hanging around his smoke-filled office one day when in walks Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), dressed to kill, the personification of desire. (I've often wondered why Marlowe and his ilk, who've been screwed over repeatedly by temptresses such as these, don't recognize a femme fatale when one crosses their path.) She wants him to find her missing lover, Niko Peterson (Francois Arnaud), who has seemingly fallen off the map. With nothing better to do, the gumshoe takes the case and proceeds to encounter a group of characters from Central Casting, as well as taking a beating or two.

There's Clare's jealous mother, former film star Dorothy Cavendish (Jessica Lange); duplicitous club owner Floyd Hanson (Danny Huston), a man of great wealth; The Ambassador (Mitchell Mullen); a purveyor of rare antiquities, Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming); and a woman with a tortured past, Niko's sister Lynn (Daniela Melchior). Each has something to do with Peterson and how they are all connected involves corruption at the highest and lowest levels of society. If you've read any of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels or seen The Big Sleep or Chinatown, you’re likely to experience déjà vu on multiple occasions while sitting through this. Again, I have no problem with films that revisit well-established genres if they put a new spin on the form or, at the very least, bring a sense of enthusiasm to the project. Neither is present in Marlowe, Jordan and his cast simply going through the motions, while images of Humphrey Bogart, Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum played in my head. In theaters.

Clever ending saves Peak

Ben Young's Devil's Peak has a pedestrian feel to it that it just can't shake, despite the spirited efforts of its cast. Billy Bob Thornton is McNeely, a drug lord in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina who has little in the way of a conscience. His son Jacob (Hopper Penn) finds himself between a rock and a hard place when good old dad insists that he kill a former associate who may reveal what he knows about his operation to the feds. Meanwhile, his mother (Robin Wright) is fighting addiction issues and his wannabe girlfriend (Katelyn Nacon) just happens to be the stepdaughter of a local politician intent on putting McNeely out of business. That the local sheriff (Jackie Earle Haley) is in his father's pocket doesn't help Jacob when he decides to break away from his dad's iron grip.

To Young's credit, he keeps the story moving at a brisk pace while capturing the depressed nature of the Appalachian community, here seen as an inescapable pit of despair. The cast avoids the trap of simply going through the motions, Thornton and Penn creating an antagonistic chemistry that's palpable. To the film's credit, its last 10 minutes come out of nowhere, a violent, surprising denouement that holds water where the film's narrative logic is concerned. Again, nothing new here, but it's reasonably well-done. Available through Video-On-Demand.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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