Sunday, August 16, 2009

Early Review: 'Bright Star' (B)

By Chase Kahn

Jane Campion's Bright Star (due in theaters 09.18.09) is a nice little love poem about the three-year relationship between famous English poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), between the years of 1818-1821.

It's a rather slight and minimalist kind of film -- there are only 3 main characters as the entire film takes place at either Fanny or John's place of residence -- and the subject is hardly impervious to claims of unoriginality and treading familiar ground.

However, Campion (The Piano, Sweetie) is such a talented director working with a first-rate crew that Bright Star is quite frequently an overwhelmingly well-polished production. It's shot, cut and composed in a way occasionally becomes levitational -- made all the more memorable by Mark Bradshaw's gentle score matching Greg Fraiser's soft and muted cinematography. The pedigree is never in question, the script is.

Bright Star strictly adheres to the motto, "less is more". Unfortunately, this idealogy also extends to the writing. The original screenplay (written solely by Campion) handles the relationship between Fanny and John at arms-length. The actors do their best, but there's never an authentic believability to the romance and as a result, it's a cold, unemotional trip.

The film features two good performances (Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw) and one great one. Paul Schneider (The Assassination of Jesse James), as John's best friend and colleague, is fantastic. Donning a Scaw-ttish accent, he plays the self-centered intellectual snob without a hitch, one of the more underrated character actors working today.

Cornish (Stop-Loss) as Fanny Brawne, is a refreshingly fresh face. She brings the emotions of her character front and center in an admittedly rather edgeless and underwritten role. Whishaw (Perfume, I'm Not There) is a very interesting young actor who is equally dulled by a character who is mysteriously distant and modest.

John Keats, as portrayed by Jane Campion, was a man who feared that he would die before accomplishing all that he could as an artist. It seems appropriate given that Bright Star is a film that never reaches its potential, even though the results can be intermittently brilliant.

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