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Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, Miranda Richardson, Philip Craig

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Patrick McGrath
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

US: 28/02/03 UK: 03/01/03

Psychological thriller about a man (Fiennes), trying to piece his life back together, living in London's East End after his premature release from a mental institution. Writing in a journal, the man tries to discover the truth about his mysterious past and the death of his mother (Richardson), even as he still struggles with his fragile sanity. Spider was her nickname for him.
This had Oscar buzz - before the studio actaually saw the final cut. That had prompted a late 2002 release date for 'your consideration' come the new year trades. However reality has bitten with the realization that a David Croneberg weird art house/commercial crossover is unlikely to be this years A Beautiful Mind. No doubt because it deals with the sad realities of schitzophrenia - rather than the air-brushed Oscarized version beloved by the members.

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Miranda Richardson protects her pussy from Gabriel Byrne


Cronenberg is an expert at exploring the dark recesses of the human mind, so he seems an obvious choice to direct this quietly creepy drama about schizophrenia. But the film is just a bit too artificial to really work. Spider (Fiennes) is a man with serious mental problems; he's just been released from a hospital and is learning to live in an East London boarding house, but his old paranoia keeps coming back in the form of childhood memories. He vividly recalls his younger self (Hall) watching as his mother (Richardson) is brutally murdered by his father (Byrne) and replaced with a blowsy hooker (Richardson again). But are his memories accurate? Was he losing touch with reality even then?

The script is superb, grappling with serious issues with real insight and tenderness, drawing us into the story without ever preaching (indeed, there's hardly any dialog at all!). And Cronenberg directs it beautifully, letting us fall straight into Spider's mind. His approach to flashbacks is fiercely clever and very eerie, playing on the blurring of the imagined, perceived and actual past. Frustratingly, there are two things that keep snapping us out of the "reality" of the story. First, the production design is erratic and overdone; not only does it muddle the period, but every set looks like it was slapped with a fresh coat of drab paint just before the cameras started rolling--artificially dilapidated, with quirky furniture and costumes only a film crew would put together. Admittedly, this adds to the general unsettled atmosphere, but it also keeps us at arm's length. And the same can be said of Fiennes' performance, which is detailed and deeply committed, but it's also Acting! with a capital A and an exclamation point, never a real man who's deeply disturbed. The rest of the cast fares better; Richardson is particularly good. And while the film has disturbing, scary, involving and ultimately deeply sad moments, it never really goes anywhere. Frustrating indeed.


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