Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Juan Carlos Medina's THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM proves a nifty, stylish, smart Victorian thriller

What a surprising but clever choice it was to put Spanish director Juan Carlos Medina at the helm of the new British mystery thriller, THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM. The film's producers most certainly caught Medina's first movie, a bizarre combination of mystery, history and other-worldliness entitled Painless, which TrustMovies was most impressed by some years back at the late-and-much-lamented FSLC series, Spanish Cinema Now. The filmmaker's second feature turns out to be every bit as good as his first, thanks not only to him (Señor Medina is shown below) but to the film's screenwriter, Jane Goldman (who adapted her screenplay from the Peter Ackroyd novel (Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem), and to the surprising and especially well-chosen cast.

The other thing that makes this movie so special is its splendid visual panache/production design (courtesy of Simon Dennis (cinematography), Pilar Foy (set decor), Grant Montgomery (production design). The film is set in Victorian London, with much of the goings-on taking place in a popular British Music Hall, so between the dark foreboding of the back streets (currently plagued by a killer penned by the press as the Limehouse Golem: one of its victims is Jewish), the busy interiors of the homes on display, and the garish but hugely entertaining music hall scenes, there is hardly a moment in which you'll be able to take your eyes off the screen.

And then there is that remarkable cast, led by the unmissable Bill Nighy (above), here in a role the likes of which we've seldom seen him: as a Scotland Yard inspector who has been given this nasty case to get it out of the hair of his up-and-coming superior, and also, it is hinted, due to his character's improper sexual proclivity. Nighy is, as ever, tactful, unshowy and absolutely on-the-mark. He makes the character's search for justice our own, helping to anchor the movie.

As the owner of the troupe, as well as its leading (often cross-dressing) man at the Music Hall, the heretofore pretty-boy Douglas Booth (above and below, right) treads new ground. This actor may very well be capable of a lot more that he's been given the opportunity to show us, if his grand performance -- over-the-top (as it should be) when he's on stage, charming and bright when he's not -- is any indication. He begins this vastly entertaining movie with a bang, and helps carry it through to its surprising conclusion.

The third amazing actor here is a young woman -- Olivia Cooke (above, left, and below) -- whom many of us will know best from her performance as the sweet and caring girl with a tube up her nose in the cable TV series Bates Motel. Ms Cooke is a revelation here, as the wife of a not-so-nice would-be playwright husband, who has just died as our film begins.

We soon learn of her character's younger days, and watch in wonder and delight as this young girl becomes a talented and popular music hall star, and then finally see her go on trial for murder, as she becomes the Nighy character's obsession, and simultaneously takes the idea of Victorian feminism into quite new and different territory.

The Limehouse Golem is mainly a murder mystery, with the identity of the golem the piece of the puzzle for which Nighy and we keep searching. We see various characters try to fit into the role of murderer, but no one quite manages it, though the various attempts give the director the chance to show his chops in the suspense/blood/gore departments. (The movie could easily be much gorier than it is, and Medina's to be commended for his distancing techniques, in which atmosphere most often trumps slasher effects.)

In a fine supporting cast that includes Spain's Maria Valverde (as the near-constant "other woman") and Australia's Sam Reid (as Cooke's no-account hubby), a stand-out would have to be Daniel Mays (above) as the slightly slow but kindly cop who acts as Nighy's assistant. And, yes, that's the versatile Eddie Marsan, below, who appears as the Music Hall's troupe's manager.

A rich stew of period detail, acting chops, atmosphere, tall story and thoughtful provocation, the movie almost resists classification. It's just plain eye-popping. And Ms Cooke is simply sensational. "Here we are again!" has seldom resonated with such a combination of joy, horror and irony as in the film's strange, powerful and moving finale.

From RLJ Entertainment & Hanway Films and running 109 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, September 8, in limited theatrical release and simultaneously on VOD and digital HD. This is the sort of film that really ought to be seen on the big screen, so if you live in or near these ten cities across the USA, try to catch the film there: in New York at the Village East Cinema, in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall, in Cleveland at the AMC Solon 16, in  Dallas at the AMC Hickory Creek 16, in Houston at the AMC Yorktown 15, in Miami at the AMC Pompano Beach 18, in Minneapolis at the AMC Apple Valley 15, in Phoenix at the AMC Arizona Center 24, in Tampa at the AMC Sundial 19, and in Chicago at the AMC Woodridge 18. 

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