The Eye of The Storm: You get Big Stars ’cause they can pull a lot of weight

17 Aug

Geoffrey Rush's nose was nearly upstaged by a well-placed purple wig. But they can laugh about it now...

Review by Lizzie Lamb 

  Film-makers directing Geoffrey Rush seem to have difficult time resisting using his voice for their introductory narration. Quills, Oscar and Lucinda, Harvey Crumpet, and now The Eye of The Storm, all feature his unflappable Aussie gentility, flopping its way across the initial vignette. This recitative assures the audience that yes, this film has Geoffrey Rush and his nose in it. He promises to be excessively theatrical and have a lot of fun. Enjoy!

I shouldn’t complain, and I don’t. We here in Australia are lucky to have our own Gerard Depardieu, an ubiquitous actor whose name represents quality in a touch-and-go, small industry. Rush’s turn as Sir Basil and his co-Executive Producer credit with fellow stamp-of-approval and co-star Judy Davis, guarantee a degree of sympathy and interest from overseas.

    And this film of Patrick White’s novel is a good use of that clout. Thoroughly entertaining and pleasing to the eye it’s a film heavily based in its 1970’s context, yet timely in the way of all insightful cinema. The storyline is steeped in themes that will be instinctively familiar to Australians: a ‘classless’ society; the constant effacing of the individual for their ‘set’; the cracks in the façade of civilisation; the basic destructive power of what cannot be said. That makes it sound less droll than it actually is.

   The central trio, ailing matriarch Elizabeth (Charlotte Rampling in fine form, her ostensibly successful, but fundamentally hopeless children Princess Dorothy (Judy Davis) and Sir Basil, stagger under the burden of wealthy expectations. The children have returned from their cosmopolitan, but unsatisfying lives in Europe to their Sydney Family Seat to watch mother die. The children are neurotic, miserable, and oppositional (to everything).

   The psychological idiosyncrasies of these characters are perfectly matched by their physical ones. Sir Basil is a classic ham, so Geoffrey Rush lets loose with the scenery chewing (as well as actual chewing) doing a slightly Aussie Falstaff impression. Dorothy is as bird-like and startled as they come, sexually repressed but with hidden reserves of fortitude.

   It knows how to lighten the mood too. Basil’s chickeny avoidance and bin-scabbing habits of food and sex, and Dorothy’s desperate French exclamations and fraught behaviour, and Mother’s sexual frankness all make for a damn good time. And supporting these three are the mainstays of their privileged existence: the lawyers, maids, nurses and caretakers who do the real work that allows these three to indulge in their ‘White People Problems’. And because Australia is a classless society, no-one is allowed to mention the discrepancy of letting someone wipe your bottom but not letting them date your son. And the supporting cast of Nurses Mary (staid) and Flora (sexy), the family lawyer, their Nazi-persecuted housekeeper and peripheral servants, allow the aging heirs of the Hunter family to live in perpetual childhood: in the world of the rich, you only become a grown-up by dead men’s shoes.

   There are constant reminders to the flaws in their pretty world: blotches, spots, scars, and cracks mar any potential perfection. Often films will project a world that is either exaggeratedly attractive, full of soft hues and peachy light, or a harder, darker, GRITTIER version in aggressive shadows and stark light. Fred Schepisi does no such thing, creating instead a world that looks spot-on: the colours, lighting and tones all depict that elusive feeling of disappointment with the ordinariness of luxury. It’s the feeling you get when you see an opulent, glossy picture of your hotel room, and then arrive to find it’s just a generic room with a tiny fridge and UHT milk. The only safety against disappointment is having the means to do whatever you want. Mother knew it, and over the course of her death her children appreciate it too.

  I’m not saying this is a message of great relevance to the rest of us un-monied sods, but it is an entertaining journey into a foreign but strangely familiar land.

  Plus, y’know, Geoffrey Rush is in it.

In Cinemas September 15


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