Reviews

Reviews The 2009 Toronto International Film Festival

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

J Blakeson

UK, 2009

Credits

Review by Mike D’Angelo

Posted on 29 September 2009

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2009 Toronto International Film Festival

Before I get to the particulars of The Disappearance of Alice Creed – an inventive and generally quite entertaining British thriller, and one of the few truly populist films I saw at Toronto this year – I need to register an anal-retentive complaint about the title. This movie is not about the disappearance of Alice Creed. The word “disappearance” implies the reaction of various people who interact with Ms. Creed on a regular basis, who are now looking around in confusion and wondering where the hell she’s gone—a perspective that writer/director J Blakeson very deliberately ignores. No, what we have here, plainly, is the abduction of Alice Creed. (Imagine that Paul Schrader’s 1988 feature had been called The Disappearance of Patty Hearst.) That may sound like nitpicking, but I submit that it’s just such a laissez-faire attitude about details that prevents this film from becoming more than a cute genre exercise.

Unlike most kidnapping movies – and, again, its title notwithstanding – Alice Creed begins by introducing us to the perpetrators, not the victim. Not that we initially know for certain why middle-aged, hard-as nails Vic and the younger, more tentative Danny are methodically refitting both a van and a vacant apartment with soundproofing material and tools of confinement, but it’s abundantly clear that Ms. Creed, whoever she may be, should not make any long-terms plans in the immediate future. Our first sight of her is when Vic and Danny grab her off the street, and she remains an object for some time: stripped naked, tied spread-eagled to a bed, with a ball-gag in her mouth and a bag over her head for good measure. But as Vic goes about the business of demanding a ransom from Alice’s wealthy father, leaving Danny to stand guard, a few unexpected facts come to light that alter our perception of events in a big way.

Chances are I’ve already said too much, as most of the fun in movies like this one involves the giddiness of having carefully laid traps sprung on your assumptions. There are two major twists, and the first one, while not unprecedented, is revealed with such frantic ingenuity that I couldn’t help laughing out loud in what can only be called delight. (It’s that cackling laugh that signifies admiration more than merriment.) Twist #2 is a bit more problematic—it makes what follows significantly more complex, particularly with respect to the cloudy intentions of one of the film’s only three characters (nobody else is ever seen or even heard), but it also seems like a bit of a cheat. Blakeson drops a few hints here and there, which you recognize in hindsight, but it’s hard to believe that this particular information wouldn’t have manifested itself a whole lot earlier were there not a clever screenwriter working overtime to conceal it.

More to the point, The Disappearance of Alice Creed never really seems to be about anything much more than Blakeson detonating the handful of narrative grenades at his disposal. To be sure, the actors struggle hard to persuade you otherwise: Martin Compston, who was discovered by Ken Loach for 2002’s Sweet Sixteen, has developed into a remarkably adroit and sensitive pseudo-tough (see also Red Road), and while I felt that Eddie Marsan took spluttering, impotent rage well over the top as Happy-Go-Lucky’s driving instructor, here he achieves a skillful, precise balance between cold calculation and unexpected ardor. (Gemma Arterton, as Alice, is new to me; she does fine work as well.) But like the title, much of the movie seems to offer only whatever seems the most superficially diverting, without delving much or asking anything of the viewer save for occasional surprise. You certainly won’t be bored while it’s in front of you, but neither will you necessarily remember it long once it isn’t anymore.

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