The Critic

The Critic
The Critic
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Anand Tucker’s The Critic, his most recent film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, puts 1936 London theatre in focus. This movie also marks Tucker’s return to making films after more than a decade, having last produced Leap Year in 2010. That that was completely different from this; where leap year was romantic comedy providing hope and pulling at one’s heart with every pull string attached by holly wood happy ending.The critic takes us into the dark corners of lust and desire and weaves a story about lies and greed.

The Critic is written by Patrick Marber, an outstanding British playwright (Notes on a Scandal, Closer), and stars Sir Ian McKellen as Jimmy Erskine, the theatre critic for the Daily Chronicle. When we are first introduced to Jimmy his life takes a turn because there has been a change in management at Chronicle with David Brooke (Mark Strong) taking over following his father’s death. This plan of changing the paper into one friendly to families somehow threatens Jimmy’s long-standing status as its renowned critic. To say he can be passionate is an understatement; what he likes he reveres and what he doesn’t write about it through mudslinging prose which David hates very much.

Moreover, David does not like anything about Jimmy apart from his drinking habit or him being gay (he frequents cruising parks and often runs into policemen). To secure his career—and more importantly all the trappings that go with it—Jimmy will enlist not-too-talented actress Nina Land (Gemma Arterton); whom unfortunately hides something intimate with David himself. In addition, Nina wants only fame along with love from Jimmy so she agrees to participate in blackmailing David as suggested by her boyfriend.

Tucker begins The Critic well—by introducing us to a rather bleak London. Cold, dark but captivating at once; Tucker beats out sounds of impending WWII and walks us through filthy corridors and down narrow alleys. Besides, the Blackshirts are also present—followers of the British Union of Fascists (a political party founded by Oswald Mosley, whom Peaky Blinders fans will recognize as Sam Claflin’s terrifying character) who patrol the city streets prosecuting homosexual people. Indeed there is one scene where Jimmy and his assistant/lover Tom Tunner (Alfred Enoch) are attacked for hugging each other.

In fact, Claire Finlay-Thompson’s costume design never misses a beat; even the characters’ costumes feel suitably severe and suffocating: suits are highly structured, countless layers are piled up, colors oscillate between neutral and drab, buttons are done all the way up in everything.The truth of it lies somewhere different among many others but clearly this place is not safe to be around for many people particularly Jimmy who must move about in shadows—in more senses than one as we soon discover—for safety reasons.

Jimmy’s refusal to let David tamper with and sugarcoat his articles could be seen as a noble defense of the freedom of speech. But when it comes to The Critic, this is its own shortcoming; it is an underdeveloped part of the story, which makes one doubt whether at all it was meant to be a part. It has too many characters in its plot and twists too much on their arcs and motivations thus leaving some stories that could have been essentially unfinished. Although beginning as a thriller, the movie ends as stage-y melodrama whose every twist you can guess wrong.

The most intriguing thing about The Critic is how Jimmy and Nina relate. We have seen McKellen play the righteous villain before but here he is just vile, black-hearted and cold (much like his reviews). Arterton also gives an impressive performance as Nina – she could so easily have been a wide-eyed innocent led astray by Jimmy, yet there is something scrappy about her that makes her real – even Jimmy respects her for this. In fact, when asked why she values his criticism so highly; Nina does well to provide some food for thought: it was from him that she learnt acting, not from performances.

Of course, this only lasts for a while. Following their blackmail over David throughout The Critic, everything gets worse rapidly. Tucker has brought together an ensemble cast of English actors whom he has wasted by providing them with thin material — they however make good use of what they are given. It seems that many British actors were missed out on who should truly delight us with their admirable ability to turn even poor roles into compelling ones hence missing valuable opportunity for them personally speaking excellently on behalf of most others involved here among them being Romola Garai,Ben Barnesand Lesley Manville.

On the whole though simmering happens without actually boiling over in “The Critic”. If Jimmy himself watches this film, one wonders how much he would be disappointed.

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