Sunday, 15 April 2012
KILLING ME SOFTLY (2002) ~ 'a very hot fried posh snack from a street seller on an East Finchley street corner'.
Killing Me Softly is without doubt, a mostly bonkers movie, with a surprise ending that isn't quite able to be all that much of a one (but is still an odd and unsettling way to usher in those end credits with all the same, alongside a fleeting, single wave of a postscript on an escalator to wrap things up with that's slightly too much of an afterthought to mean much, but is reassuringly as bonkers as everything else that came before it) - still, despite its faults, of which there are some, I enjoyed watching this 2002 (is he a-) psycho thriller of a filthy movie (again - and I stand accused of bad taste gluttony) the other night, through a lonely peephole in a darkened room, after catching a taxi home in the rain with a kooky girl I met at a zebra crossing after a book signing in London.
Ok, the 'watching the film in the dark' bit was true, perhaps not the rest! But how many middle-aged male writers do I know about who take their most fervent fans home with them after every London book signing they do? I'll leave that to the balance between fact and fiction, which, to an extent - this film also treads. A film that, in trying to describe, seemingly cries out for multiple brackets to back up the facts with. Even so, there is no way to describe the scene where lead hunk Adam rescues lead lonely heart Alice from a mugger by dropping his shopping, chasing the teenage brute and bashing him against a phone box, all the while watched by local police, before lifting Alice up in his arms, asking her to marry him, and snogging her with pouty lips smeared with the yob's blood when she says yes. Ahh, romance! This film, at that moment, comes across as either completely mad, unrealistic, or just plain subversive. MGM were said to be having kittens when director Kaige Chen (using, for this movie, the appropriately back-to-front pen name of Chen Kaige) handed this one in, and the scissors came out straight away.
Based on a Nicci French (aka Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) novel in which a pretty, professional website designer, the usually sensible Alice (played by the luscious Heather Graham, here convincingly wide-eyed and starstruck by new unsafe love) has a moment's encounter at a traffic light (oh - if only all life nearly getting run over in the fast lane were so simple) with a mountaineering engineer (or should that be 'an engineering mountaineer'?) called Adam (played, broodily, by Joseph Fiennes, brother of Ralph of course, and whose first stage role was in the now huger than ever The Woman in Black in the West End), that leads to the two London professionals (but not 'professional' in that kind of way!) jumping into a taxi together - well actually jumping into a taxi together after a few hour's anticipation from Alice at work, where she rather brilliantly just can't concentrate on anything else other than the thought of 'you know what and which could right now be waiting for her round the corner' before giving in and telling her colleagues she's off out to get her "hair trimmed" if your girlfriend ever says this to you - watch out!) - and going back to his place for an afternoon of living room floor mountaineering ("What's your name?" he asks her casually in the taxi as the only foreplay on offer - or wanted - here) that gets fairly explicit very quickly. Explicit enough to be edited in some US DVD versions and also when released theatrically, but always uncut in the UK.
Alice leaves her sensible and safe boyfriend, Jake, still watching telly at home (Jason Hughes from Midsomer Murders and This Life in a nicely wounded performance that makes you cry out that he would have been better as the lead; I love the line from Jake, when she tells him she is leaving and seeing someone else, "But I buy your fucking tube tickets for you", having earlier been told that Jake is the sort of man who keeps all his old tube tickets safe in a plastic wallet) and shacks up with the hunk in the trunks. Or the man in the mountaineering boots. Cue: even more naughtiness, including photo shoots in a graveyard and tie-me-ups in cabins, before it's obvious that Adam 'has a history', and a stalker too that loathes the new woman in his life.
Could this jealous guy, this so-called 'stalker' be Adam himself, or someone from his past; perhaps the mysterious former girlfriend Francoise; a girl who he let fall to her death while halfway up a mountain? Joseph Fiennes isn't hugely mysterious as the hunk with the junk but he is suitably dark and broody, and Heather Graham (Annie Blackburn from Twin Peaks and the even better film version of that TV show: 'Fire Walk with Me') is convincingly naive and frustrated and little-girl-lost in a suddenly too grown up world to sometimes cope with. The direction, from Kaige Chen, who gave us Farewell My Concubine in 1993, adds some class to the shafts, and some of the direction provokes real desire, cleverly shot setpieces and hurry-up-and-just-do-it urgency to the eroticism on show - especially good is the glimpse of Alice jumping up and down on the spot with girlish excitement as she starts to undress - and be undressed by - Adam in his London townhouse.
The languid, lovingly-lensed shots of Adam and friends climbing up a mountain in Cumbria and losing his friends as they fall off the edge one by one, is full of close-ups of steel sliding into ice, and upside down, topsy-turviness as well as moments of sheer rock-faced horror that are - frankly - quite brilliantly beautiful and sun-glaringly garish; quite unexpected in a movie of this popcorn kind. The Director of Photography is Michael Coulter who gave us a slightly less tainted slice of London-lensed life in Notting Hill and Love Actually. The brightly-lit, rain-drenched casual and causal London settings in Killing Me Softly of busy roads, hurried but still slowed-motion lives and wasted minutes looking in bookshops in the rain, echo the previous year's Intimacy from the pen of Hanif Kureishi that did the same for pubs and suburban streets as this film does for taxis, bookshops and busy London roads, although Intimacy is a far more raw and realistic, elegiac movie and script (the sex scenes in that one are also more real, unlike those in Killing Me Softly, although many claim that the cast here were also really giving their all for their art, which isn't very likely, but like Nicholson and Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice and Sutherland and Christie in Don't Look Now, a nice, if slightly downmarket compared to those other examples, urban movie myth to boost interest ).
The casting director of Killing Me Softly is Susie Figgis (cousin of course of the great British director Mike Figgis), a woman who never usually fails in her casting choices and here she comes up smelling of London pot plants with Heather Graham and Jason Hughes, who are perfect, but Joseph Fiennes and Natascha McElhone as brother and sister aren't entirely convincing, though they are pretty damn odd, which may be the point. The film's title is bad, and could be the defining factor in turning you off from the start, but if you like films that are pretty bonkers, often realistically steamy, deviate from all that isn't deviant and have an ending that frankly - is certifiably insane, as well as be a movie that just loves to be living in London, then, as a very hot fried posh snack from a street seller on an East Finchley street corner, Killing Me Softly could just tickle a little of what you fancy most, but may never find in real life. This could clearly be a good thing. Just ask Alice.