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Worth A Look48.15%
Pretty Bad: 3.7%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Luzhin Defence, The
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by Greg Muskewitz

"Turturro, still good, isn't allotted much maneuverability."
3 stars

“The Luzhin Defence” is but another indistinguishable period piece, in this instance set amongst an Italian and Russian milieu, fluctuating back-and-forth between the late 1920s and the late 1800s. But despite its amorphousness, the movie still provides a select amount of mystique and worthy storytelling, and two stabile, but not completely solid performances by the leads. And yet still, it qualifies as a “sports movie” (strategy is less of a stretch) in the realm of chess.

Based on the novel by Vladimir “Lolita” Nabokov “The Defence,” it’s another novel that has not crossed my eyes. And sometimes I tend to believe that not having read the novel at all is beneficial, especially if you don’t plan to read it later on, because at least then there is a certain amount of disappointment that can be removed for the translation from book to celluloid. I’m not suggesting that you therefore skip everything you see as a decent movie because the literary version has been altered or is much better. After all, I was complaining just a few weeks ago about the messy and indigestible changes made to “Along Came a Spider,” but I believe that with or without having read the James Patterson mystery, the relative flimsiness would have shown through. In Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of “The Luzhin Defence” (in the “Chicago Reader”) he labels it “worthless,” with the whole fault being on the changes made from the novel. Rosenbaum acknowledges some good points, such as the metaphor of Luzhin (Turturro) being without first name right up until his suicide, so as that it comes and closes in the small passage of time to match with flash of his life. (As well as leaving his love interest, played by Emily Watson, unnamed, an easy enough task for a movie, yet here she is administered the name Natalia.) Things such as these should not have posed difficulty to place in the movie, but screenwriter Peter Berry and director Marleen Gorris have chosen to extract the achievable metaphors from the movie itself. Still there are more that Rosenbaum goes into in his review, but they are too complex to capture in a movie, which is acknowledged by Rosenbaum, so why complain then? He clearly examines the alterations that have been made, but I still fail to see how it hurts the movie overall. It doesn’t make it any more or less interesting, any more or less crafted, any more or less cinematic. The flashbacks themselves are pretty dull and ordinary and unnatural looking, and the story could have spent more time in the “present” time. And the showdown chess match contains a sense of suspense in the game, but it is hardly the nail-biter. The end result and revelation is far more interesting and observed –if not rushed into—however, it still cries for more attention than it was given. John Turturro (as Alexander Luzhin), probably my favorite actor, and one of the absolute best currently working, is not allotted much maneuverability. He is still good with what room he is provided with, but the rudimentary flashbacks and backstories hardly divulge or help understand his psychological condition. (I don’t the scene where he hums and dances to the waltz now so commonly associated with “Eyes Wide Shut” –I remember it from “Yi Yi” as well—attains the resonance that it was after, but it still remains a nicely composed scene.) And on a whole, the majority of the movie, not just the flashback sequences, is underlit.

Final Verdict: B-.

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originally posted: 05/12/01 05:53:54
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User Comments

8/12/01 N. Ruff Best movie we've seen in months. 4 stars
7/20/01 skye i'm sure i saw this. i think i liked it. sort of. 3 stars
4/17/01 Spetters Pretty boring! Turturro is all tics and no feeling. Only Watson lights up sometimes. 2 stars
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  20-Apr-2001 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Sep-2001



Directed by
  Marleen Gorris

Written by
  Peter Berry

  John Turturro
  Emily Watson
  Orla Brady
  Geraldine James
  Stuart Wilson
  Fabio Sartor

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