Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Conor McPherson's genre-busting THE ECLIPSE gives Ciarán Hinds a worthy role

What to make of THE ECLIPSE, the new mash-up movie from Conor McPherson, a fellow better-known for legitimate theater than for film? While this new work, which McPherson directed and co-wrote (with Billy Roche, based on Mr. Roche's stories) is not likely to shift that balance from theater to film, I suspect it may prove the most popular of his movies so far. At least by an ounce or two. This artist, who may be Irish-popular, is not exactly American-mainstream, though here he gives us shocks 'n scares, romance n' family, and a fight scene that's as good -- and original -- as any in recent memory.

There's a lightness of tone, if not event, to The Eclipse, plus a sense that its characters will somehow be able to negotiate their rather strange world, that places this particular McPherson work (the filmmaker is pictured at right) firmly in the realm of comedy, as opposed to tragedy, as Shakespeare would understand those terms. This unusual tone sprinkles a kind of fairy dust over the proceedings that allows us to accept jolts of horror (I haven't heard a press audience scream like this in quite some time) along with romance, sadness, and lighthearted moments with surprising equanimity & enjoyment.

Death (of beloved family members) hovers over the film, as does the need to accept this and, however uneasily and eventually, move on. I believe it is this theme that grounds the movie and allows the audience, as do the characters, to wrestle with some very odd goings-on. The other factor that welds it all together is actor Ciarán Hinds (shown above and bottom, right) who has rarely had this full or interesting a character with which to work.  As usual, Hinds gives his all -- and it's more than enough. This actor possesses such gravity and yet manages not to weigh us down with it; he's always a pleasure to watch as he "lives" each role. 

Iben Hjejle (shown left, a Danish actress we don't see often enough over here: High Fidelity, Mifune) provides the romantic interest, offering a keen intelligence, coupled to wariness, that fits her mature beauty like a rough glove. Completing the triangle is Aidan Quinn (below), who, after his recent role in Dark Matter (a film you really should see), now appears to be the go-to guy for sleazy, snarky, you-love-to-hate-him roles.  (This is a compliment, Mr. Quinn.)  He is so believable as the egotistical author at the center of the Writers' Conference that brings these three characters together that he is likely to give certain best-selling authors a very bad rep.

So how does McPherson manage to scare the scream out of us in a movie that proves every bit as romantic, charming and sorrowful as it is frightening.  Surprise, of course, which is not that difficult to achieve, but the filmmaker also uses suspense to twist out our fear, once we know something is afoot.  The photography (Ivan McCullough) and editing (Emer Reynolds) certainly help matters, but I think the main reason is that McPherson sets his ghost(s) against such everyday scenes as the beautiful and green natural world, the seaside, and a group of homey, likable characters struggling with the very problems we find in so many other dramas.  This gives the specters, even if they do proceed from the mind of the Hinds character, added credibility -- as does the discussion between Hinds & Hjejle (who plays a popular writer of ghost stories) regarding the how and why of these apparitions -- who offer fright, yes, but also solace.

In any case, if you give over to this film (which does not even require the kind of suspension of disbelief that do so many other "scare" movies), I suspect you will have a fine time of it and may well conclude, upon the film's conclusion, that Mr. McPherson has created something very nearly sui generis.

The Eclipse begin its exclusive theatrical run in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and at Laemmle Theaters all over the Los Angeles area on March 26, with the nationwide, limited rollout beginning in April.  Click here for all dates, cities and theaters.  Simultaneous with its theatrical run, the film is appearing On-Demand, so if your home screen is large enough to accommodate McPherson's vision, check your local TV-reception provider regarding availability.

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