Sunday, September 9, 2012

On DVD: In APPROPRIATE ADULT Jarrold & McKaye give us two ugly British serial killers

Can you create a spellbinding, two-and-a-quarter-hour program about a pair of British husband-wife serial killers without ever showing any of their killings? Gorehounds will take offense, but intelligent, mature audiences will be hooked from scene one, as APPROPRIATE ADULT, the two-part series produ-ced for British tele-vision in cooperation with the Sundance Channel, makes its DVD debut this coming week.

As directed by Julian Jarrold (pictured at right; he did the first of the three Red Riding British TV crime movies) and written by Neil McKay, this based-on-true-events film holds us in thrall by virtue of its understanding of how to leaven a dark, horrific police procedural with enough of the life of the two families involved (one horrible, the other normally abnormal) to balance, if oddly, one story against the other. Mr. Jarrold's ability to do this is helped in no small measure by Mr. McKay's very effective screenplay that uses dialog, along with place and situation, to create three amazing lead characters, plus a host of well-drawn underlings who help provide an unflagging sense of reality in both the police station and the home (the movie's two main locations).

All of the above is well and good, but without the work of three appropriate actors, Appropriate Adult might go off the rails. The three prize-winning actors cast here are simply remarkable, and it is no surprise that they walked away with their BAFTA awards for Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Emily Watson (above) is never less than accomplished and real; in certain roles she's well-nigh perfect, and this is one of them. She plays Janet Leach, the woman chosen to be the "appropriate adult" present as the police question their suspect, Fred West. (The British legal system is different from ours, but this particular use of a civilian, along with police presence, looks like a rather smart one.) Does any actress (from Breaking the Waves to Oranges and Sunshine) do vulnerable-yet-strong better than does Ms Watson? See for youself.

The role of Fred is taken of Dominic West (above, center), an actor of not a little versatility. He can handle comedy (Johnny English Reborn), romance and post-traumatic stress (he's currently in The Awakening), macho adventure (Centurion), cartoon villainy (Punisher: War Zone) and rom-com-dram (Mona Lisa Smile) all with ease -- not to mention his work in The Wire. As Fred West, this actor with the same last name gives what is probably his best performance ever. He keeps Ms Watson's character -- and us -- so off-balance for so long that we're reeling. He's at once sexy and horrible, vulnerable and strong, fascinating and frightening and always, still, a mystery. The movie never quite solves him, and this is exactly as it should be.

As his wife Rose -- a woman we know much less of, and the kind of criminal creep who understands that silence is her best defense -- Monica Dolan (above, with her award) is a huge surprise. I've seen her in some small roles, but nothing like the creature she creates here: all angry, nasty, never-give-an-inch ugliness. The interplay of these three with each other and with the rest of the fine cast makes for quite a study in evil -- and what it takes to smother it. For awhile.

Appropriate Adult hits the street, on DVD only, this Tuesday, September 11, 2012, from Inception Media Group, for sale or rental, and also available digitally.

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