DVD Review: ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ Holds Interest Despite Flaws

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CHICAGO – There is no doubt that Gemma Arterton is a pretty face. Her natural beauty is so intoxicating that it nearly always upstages whatever talent may reside beneath her scintillating surface. Her aggressively bland work in mediocre action fare like “Clash of the Titans” and “Prince of Persia” had convinced me that she was nothing more than a non-thinking man’s Rachel Weisz.

While “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is not exactly an ideal vehicle to showcase the untapped abilities of Arterton, it does allow her to command the screen like never before, and she does not disappoint. The titular role of Alice, a kidnapped young woman, would be a punishing role for any actress to take on, but Arterton fully commits. She’s not exactly a seasoned pro, but like her rookie director (ambiguously credited as “J Blakeson”), she exudes enough skill and potential to make one curious to see her in a film more deserving of her efforts.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 2.5/5.0
DVD Rating: 2.5/5.0

Unfortunately, “Creed” is a sloppy exercise in style, the typical work of a first-time filmmaker intent on shocking his viewers, rather than connecting with them on any sort of meaningful level. There’s also something distastefully kinky about the camera’s obsessive fixation on Alice’s (occasionally nude) body, which spends much of the picture tied to a bed. Yet the film is nowhere near as excruciating as it initially promises to be, just as Alice’s captors, Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston), are nowhere near as confident as they seem. Blakeson’s script consists of various twists, each one more implausible than the last. There are a handful of moments where characters make profoundly stupid decisions that prevent them from easily solving their problems. Consider Danny’s morbidly funny attempts to dispose of an incriminating bullet. He ends up swallowing it not once, but twice. Why couldn’t he have simply put it back in the gun? Such questions perhaps wouldn’t have been so glaring if the film weren’t confined to a claustrophobic apartment inhabited by its sole three characters.

Gemma Arterton stars in J Blakeson’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed.
Gemma Arterton stars in J Blakeson’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed.
Photo credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Despite all of it flaws, “Creed” still manages to sustain audience interest, partly because of Blakeson’s gift for pacing. The film’s opening sequence is also its best, as the prowling camera follows Vic and Danny as they move purposefully through a hardware store, purchasing seemingly innocent items for their unspeakable plans. Marsan, the magnificent actor from Mike Leigh’s “Happy Go Lucky,” has a knack for injecting vulnerability into any role, even that of a cold-blooded sociopath, and he brings remarkable nuance to a character that easily could’ve been a one-note brute. Compston has the weakest role of the three, primarily because it’s the most convoluted. Arterton has the opposite dilemma: her character is not complex enough. Her scenes consist largely of wailing and trembling, but Arterton refuses to play a colorless victim. The emotional intensity of her performance is so potent that the film suffers whenever she’s offscreen. “Creed” may be destined to quickly disappear, but Arterton has proven once and for all that she is more than just a pretty face. If only Hollywood would take note…

The Disappearance of Alice Creed was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Nov. 23, 2010.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Nov. 23, 2010.
Photo credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment

“The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is presented in its 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and includes audio commentary from director Blakeson, who says that it was his intention to subvert the cliches of “kidnapper movies” in the same way “Reservoir Dogs” subverted the heist thriller. “It’s a kidnap film without the kidnap,” Blakeson says. What attracted him to exploring the material was the unusual amount of intimacy a kidnapper has with his victim, requiring the criminal to develop somewhat of a parental relationship. Though Blakeson had worked as a screenwriter for years, this was his first feature in which he was allowed full artistic control. In the opening scenes, he said he wanted to hold off on dialogue as long as possible to avoid staginess. He ended up cutting a great deal of his dialogue after realizing that his actors’ expressive performances warranted much of it unnecessary. The disc’s two extended scenes involve little more than self-conscious exposition, though they do allow viewers to further appreciate the cast’s uniformly strong work.

A storyboard comparison of two key sequences illustrates just how crucial Phillip Blaubach’s fluid cinematography and Mark Eckersley’s jittery editing were to the film’s overall atmosphere. Blakeson admits that Eckersley’s use of jump cuts were not only meant to increase the tension, but also assist in creating the illusion that Compston and Marsan were competent criminals. The actors’ general incompetence in matters of kidnapping is chronicled in the disc’s most bizarre extra: a 4-minute blooper reel. It’s somewhat of a relief to see the fearsome Marsan struggling to keep a straight face, but his behind-the-scenes antics are still an unwelcome sight. Imagine a “Silence of the Lambs” DVD including an outtake reel in which Anthony Hopkins cracks up over his infamous “chianti” line. That about approximates the mood-killing awkwardness of watching Arterton laughing with a ball gag in her mouth.

‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ is released by Anchor Bay Entertainment and stars Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan. It was written and directed by J Blakeson. It was released on Nov. 23rd, 2010. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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