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Worth A Look33.96%
Average: 13.21%
Pretty Bad: 16.98%
Total Crap: 1.89%

5 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Iris (2002)
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by Andrew Howe

"Leave the tissues at home"
3 stars

Iris Murdoch was a British writer of some renown, a headstrong and intelligent woman whose youthful experimentation provided the springboard for her incisive views on love, sex and the dominant/submissive aspects of intimate relationships. Married to fellow author John Bayley for over 40 years, she contracted Alzheimer�s Disease in 1997, leaving her family and friends to watch helplessly as a proud and forceful woman regressed to a childlike state.

It�s a premise that would have any self-respecting scriptwriter salivating in anticipation, so writer/director Richard Eyre studied Bayley�s memoirs, signed him up as a creative consultant, and recruited a quartet of capable actors (Kate Winslet/Judi Dench as Iris and Hugh Bonneville/Jim Broadbent as Bayley) to recreate two pivotal periods in the title character�s life. The themes are universal � love, relationships and the transformational power of the passage of time; sex, emotion and the consequences of divorcing one from the other; the undercurrent of resentment and regret that rises to the surface when our resistance reaches its lowest ebb; and the bitter knowledge that the price of life is the certainty of loss - but the brief running time and clinical atmosphere undermine the potentially poignant meditations.

There�s talk of award nominations for Judi Dench, and I�d be a fool to suggest she�s undeserving of the honour. The Dame has sold herself short in recent years (playing M in a James Bond film isn�t going to raise her in anyone�s estimation), but Iris is a revelation � her natural screen presence reinforces the perception that Iris Murdoch was someone whose ire you�d be well advised to avoid (you get the impression that suffering fools gladly wasn�t one of her strongest suits), and her portrayal of Iris�s gradual decline is difficult to fault.

It�s a hard act to follow, but the supporting players rise to the challenge. Broadbent�s trademark sensitivity is the film�s greatest asset (his track record over the last two years is nothing short of astonishing), Kate Winslet turns in an unsettlingly dispassionate performance that lays the memory of her exaggerated theatrics in Titanic to rest, and Bonneville, whose make-up and costuming lends him an eerie resemblance to Broadbent, does his level best to hold his own amongst the stiff competition. My only qualm is that Juliet Aubrey, who went a long way towards making Still Crazy one of the best films of 1998, is wasted on a role that amounts to little more than a cameo.

Unfortunately, the calibre of the performances makes Iris�s failure to scale the heights to which it aspired all the more depressing. Writer/director Richard Eyre seems to be under the impression that he�s scripting an episode of This is Your Life, and the fragments he chooses to film are rarely conducive to forming a well-rounded impression of the central characters and relationships. We�re halfway through the film before we even come close to understanding why Murdoch was attracted to Bayley in the first place, since his awkward and earnest manner is at odds with her apparent self-confidence. It appears that his good heart and level head acted as a stabilising counterpoint to Iris�s wayward lifestyle, but there had to be more to their relationship than that, and we never gain any real insight into the emotional connection that enabled them to forge a 40 year marriage.

To make matters worse, the lead characters need considerable room to move if we�re to become invested in their lives, and the 90 minute running time precludes anything other than a superficial examination of their personalities. Murdoch is a complex individual, and Eyre�s broad brushstrokes result in a peculiarly unsympathetic portrayal � she conducts her interpersonal relations on a purely intellectual level, and the barriers she erects between her tortured emotions and the outside world are rarely breached. Bayley fares somewhat better, but there are times when you wish he�d show a little more backbone, and his worship of his spouse is mildly sickening (his pet names would have been better left to our imagination). Controlling your emotions and loving someone (almost) unconditionally are not hanging offences, but when they�re the sole character traits on offer it�s difficult to muster the required identification.

Eyre further undermines his cause by allocating Murdoch precious little screen time before the onset of the disease. It�s left to the flashback sequences to provide us with an assessment of her personality, but it�s ridiculous to suggest that her worldview wouldn�t have changed in forty years, and an examination of Iris�s philosophies and relationships immediately prior to her affliction would have enhanced the impact of the scenes that follow.

There are other areas of the script that would have benefited from a critical re-evaluation � Eyre shunts us back and forth in time with monotonous regularity (compare it to Paul Cox�s restrained use of the technique in Innocence, which was considerably more successful in juxtaposing the youthful lovers with their aged counterparts), supporting characters are trundled in to make a point before being informed that their services are no longer required, and the opportunity to craft a film that screams its defiance at an uncaring universe is discarded in favour of an atmosphere of excessive restraint. For much of the running time the protagonist�s emotions are unusually subdued, and while the absence of obvious manipulation is refreshing, reducing the impact of scenes that would normally shred our misguided sense of security is a significant price to pay.

Despite Eyre�s best efforts to keep us at a distance, a handful of scenes speak directly to our fear of the long and lonely years that wait for everyone who outlives their closest companions. Iris�s degeneration arouses a certain measure of pathos, but the film�s emotional core resides with Bayley, whose gradual disintegration is heartbreaking � he wanders though his deteriorating house in a daze, torturing himself with memories of Iris�s sexual escapades forty years past, and by the time he delivers a muddled eulogy for a fallen friend his grief is inconsolable. These are the moments when Eyre�s restraint pays dividends, infusing the narrative with a power that a swelling soundtrack and exaggerated emotion could never match, and if the remaining scenes had risen to the challenge we would have been left with the deeply affecting elegy the source material should have inspired.

Despite the admirable efforts of the cast, the script provides little more than a glimpse of Iris�s obvious potential. Nobody will walk away entirely unaffected, but it could have achieved considerably more than that, and the film we were promised is now unlikely to be made. See it for the moments when it speaks to us all, and try not to think too hard about what might have been.

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originally posted: 01/26/02 16:41:31
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User Comments

8/05/09 Billy I wouldn't watch this shit if I were you 1 stars
9/19/06 marlina truly boring . overly filled with depressing scenes... 2 stars
6/15/04 T. Maj Unrelentingly depressing. No one over 60 should see it 2 stars
3/24/04 Margie another great performance from dame dench, and jim broadbent couldn't have been better. 4 stars
1/20/04 Charles Tatum Well acted, but too short 4 stars
6/11/03 Mystique Broadbent and the movie 5 stars
5/01/03 Andrew Carden Dench Is Perfect (As Usual...), but This Film Is Boring and Tiredsome. Winslet Is Miscast. 2 stars
3/11/03 Shadaan Felfeli Great film for a discerning audiance.Giving Halle Berry the oscar over Dench was a travesty 5 stars
11/16/02 Big Ted An Oscar for Dench, Broadbent, Winslet, and Bonneville, please! 5 stars
9/29/02 Peter Sherlock It's more about Dench and Broadbent than Murdoch. A good try. 3 stars
8/27/02 ownerofdajoint agreatviewofalzheimers 5 stars
6/09/02 natasha Jim Broadbent broke my heart in this 4 stars
4/05/02 Teresa Brilliant. More a celebration of a life than the sad story I expected. 4 stars
3/17/02 rajeshjha spellbound 5 stars
3/12/02 spaceworm Oscar Scmoscer. Say something intelligent! (It's Broadbent's film anyway.) 5 stars
3/08/02 Robert Greg is smoking crack. This is a truly beautiful movie. Geeky guy gets hot, smart girl! 5 stars
3/05/02 jann Judi Dench is brilliant .. as usual. She should get the Oscar. Outstanding. 5 stars
3/01/02 Pierce Lanson Not for young people. Brilliant acting. Judi will get the Oscar(1/3/02 5 stars
2/27/02 swanand its very good to see 5 stars
2/01/02 matthew smith a moving and ultimately a touching experience 4 stars
1/25/02 jamuna nice 5 stars
1/23/02 Andrew Benson This is a seriously important and beautiful movie. 5 stars
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  15-Feb-2002 (R)
  DVD: 20-Aug-2002



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