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Sunday, December 17, 2006

As old as Isolde - TRISTAN+ISOLDE

This is a review I sent to somewhere where it never got published due to various reasons of which length definitely was not one! Anyway, read on!

Movie Review:
TRISTAN & ISOLDE – Reynolds gets it Wrong!!!

Title: Tristan+Isolde
Kevin Reynolds
Cast: James Franco, Sophia Myles, Rufus Sewell…
The Dark Ages of England’s historic past has held very many stories of war and intrigue. There are several that celebrate the war-lords and the feuds betwixt warring tribes across the English Isles – between the Welsh, Saxons, the Irish, the English, the Normans and the Brits! These have intermittently lent themselves to some sweeping productions on both sides of the Atlantic pond and also within the American continent.

All these films have some template gestures to them: a sweeping landscape, usually shot in the Scottish regions; Celtic and Ren-faire music to adorn the quiet richness of the romantic feeling evoked by the misty spread of mountains and the verdant woods through which many a horse or mule drawn wagon has clattered through, and arrows have whizzed past if they hadn’t found their human targets; muddy and slushy habitation areas which are a mere cluster of hutments and wooden buildings all encompassed with a huge wall with a chief who is the claimant to the title of Lord; a man of sword skill who in the course of time becomes stuff of which legends are made, achieved mainly through setting aside personal likes and dislikes and ambitions and desires for the sake of defending either the county or the honour of the chieftain Lord; period costumes, grimy faced support cast in the role of warriors, a pretty heroine. And there are several other more.

Then there are others. Several more. Some like the Lord of the Rings. Saga in the epic mould. Some such as Arthurian legends. But the recent trend English epic cinema (more as a lingual classification) has taken is to subjugate the Romance (meaning the Fantastic war and love of epic proportions where the nation comes first) to the romance (implying the personal and psychological side of the personae involved). King Arthur was one. The movie showed, more than the political, the human side of Arthur of Camelot; the film focused not on his rise to the throne, but on his struggle to keep his beloved spouse Guinvere and of the latter’s affair with Launcelot, Arthur’s second. On the heels comes Tristan+Isolde – another Kevin Reynolds directed movie (for all those who still adore Bryan Adam’s “Everything I do…” the name may ring a bell as the director of ‘Robin Hood – the Prince of Thieves’ or the other Kevin Costner starrer “Waterworld”). Strangely enough, the movie is titled more straightforward in the USA as Tristan & Isolde. The subtitle reads: Before Romeo and Juliet, there was… TRISTAN+ISOLDE. But that is all there is to it. The romance starts with warm bodies and ends in the title.

Responses to the movie have been wide-ranging from “Reynolds has again delivered a lavish adventure for audiences who like their entertainment earnest and their storytelling straightforward” by romance-o-philes who just go emotional over every movie of its ilk and genre to “A tepid, tinny modernist recasting of the epic romance...something like a WB Network twentysomething soap opera in medieval dress.”

If you’re not convinced, try this contrast: “Intensely romantic and artistically photographed, 'Tristan & Isolde' is a welcome quality release during the January movie doldrums,” feels the critic of Reeltalk Movie Reviews while another critic asks, “Do we really want less magic in our legends? And if these stories are stripped of their mythic aspects, are they even very interesting anymore?” Now, that is T+I’s problem. The heart of these legends is their mythic proportion of saga-making, which is their soul as well. Accepted, T+I is touted as the precursor to R&J; but then again, what it lacks is the most vital aspect of a tale of love and passion – the selfsame heart! There is too much confusion in the mind of Reynolds as to what must dominate.

It is a dicey affair to take a war story and focus on the romance aspects. A quick shot at the story would probably help you figure out why our review is leading towards defining T+I as “yadda yadda yadda”! Just read the synopsis I conveniently took from somewhere to save effort.

‘After the fall of the Roman Empire, Irish King Donnchadh (David O’Hara) brutally subjugates tribal England. There, young orphaned Tristan (James Franco) is raised by family ally Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell). As a young man, the charismatic Tristan leads guerilla attacks on Irish occupying forces, ultimately defeating King Donnchadh's elite warriors. Believing himself to be mortally wounded, Tristan requests a funeral boat that eventually washes up on the Irish coast. Discovered by Irish Princess Isolde (Sophia Myles), the two fall passionately in love. All too soon Tristan must flee back to the safety of England. Meanwhile, King Donnchadh invites the English lords to contest for Isolde's hand, hoping to cause further discord among the bickering English barons. Unaware of Isolde's identity, Tristan fights in the tournament as Marke's champion. Tristan is victorious but is devastated to learn Isolde's true identity. Lord Marke weds Isolde and prepares to become King of the now united England, ruining Donnchadh's plan. Despite their best efforts to stay apart, Tristan and Isolde eventually resume their affair. When King Donnchadh arrives in England for Marke's coronation, he deviously unmasks the affair causing an English rebellion. Lord Marke forgives Tristan and Isolde as they defend Castle D'Or from Irish troops. Tristan leads a battle against the Irish but is fatally wounded. As Lord Marke leads the reunited English troops to drive out the Irish, Tristan dies peacefully in Isolde's arms.’ And what of Isolde? A caption before the credit titles intimates us that she just vanished into nowhere.

You may see that the story has scope enough for a spectacular movie on par with BRAVEHEART or TROY (forget its faults) or even TITANIC, especially when you find out the producer is Ridley Scott! But what a let down!! The movie tries to use the sweeping landscapes and other elements that make British medieval romance legends and myths as a backdrop to ride on. If the junta that sit in the front row don’t get enough skin and erotic spills since the movie is touted as the ‘romance of romances,’ they’d at least have their fill of Celtic pipes and Scottish trots to the tune of swaying folk rhythms of England while getting cloyed of the brilliant camera pans of those never-enough landscapes and from-the-top of the mountain distant view of the oceans. But Kevin Reynolds gets it wrong. Where he does get it right is his casting. The top four are absolutely brilliant, even if their soul is found missing at times. James Franco delivers a wonderfully unruly lock of hair that would definitely get the teenage girls in the audience skip a few heartbeats even if the grown-ups would notice him struggling to get the British accent right.

Sophia Myles… ah, I watched my DVD three times and I couldn’t get enough of her! And then I watched Scene Selections where Myles is dominant. Could still not get enough of her!! Infinitely superior to even the recently crowned unredoubtable queen of beauty and acting Keira Knightley, Ms. Myles would provoke an in-the-grave dinosaur fossil back to virility. And her acting is in the classic British mould. Early years of interning on stage and television show as she eats the rest of the cast hands down with her acting. A face that could topple several cameras, she’s worth watching the movie for, as Seattle Times review concludes thus: While Tristan & Isolde, a competent but uninspired film version of the legendary medieval romance, will likely fade from theaters and memories quickly, Myles' lovely face and spirited performance should linger!

If only for Myles, my vote for the best actor in T+I would go 9 out of 10 to Rufus Sewell. I would definitely like to see him as one of the Nominees for Best Supporting Actor for 2006. As the warlord Marke, Rufus Sewell is everything I would die to be in a role. Suave, confident, vulnerable during intense moments of personal conflicts and eyes that act to define the word expressiveness, he holds the movie even when the second half starts sagging. Every movie has its moment of high that may come midway or three-quarters. Herein, it comes soon after the mid-point – Marke and Isolde get married and we are left to wonder what’s left of the movie, what of Tristan. From this point Rufus Sewell’s Marke takes over. Minimal in his verbal dialogues, we fear of an accumulating anger seething within, waiting to burst out melodramatically when the cheating lovers are bound to be caught red-handed… thereby spoiling what has been a very respectable presence… but - all Sewell’s Marke says is “Seize him” as he turns his horse away. And in the scene after… that single “why” preceded by his quotation of Franco’s earlier comment about Myles’ (Isolde) commitment to him (Sewell) seals the issue that if Kevin Reynolds the director didn’t get the movie right, he got his main cast to the tee!

To make a long story short, it may not be a bad idea checking Tristan+Isolde for what it’s worth. It’s not as bad as what is bound to happen when it is released in Chennai – a quicker than faster exit from whichever multiplex it would get released in! And the music, as always lingering to lend substance to the tale of passion, adultery, illegal love between the Queen and the King’s second… to quote Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “PLAY ON!” Admirable are the support cast – in this case they being photography, editing, mixing of colours, costume and make-up. If ever a movie there was where I was so aware of make-up, what it can do to enhance a story-telling, TRISTAN & ISOLDE it is! After all, as one review on the web summed it, “The boys get the action (and Sophia Myles); the girls get some solid tragic romance (and James Franco); the movie geeks will enjoy the cinematography and Rufus Sewell's excellent supporting performance.” But Tristan & Isolde would always remain a movie that could have been excellent!

1 comment:

Dianna said...

Hey, I loved it & I'm not even a teenager anymore!