14 February 2011

The Cry of the Owl

I saw this film by chance and didn't know anything about it before choosing to watch it. When I saw that Paddy Considine had the lead role I was reminded of his phenomenal performance in the cult British film Dead Man's Shoes. The Cry of the Owl is an inferior film to Dead Man's Shoes, but that alone is no insult. I found it quite entertaining for an American psychological thriller, a genre usually rammed with predictable and artificial cinematic suspense, annoying unrealistic characters and cheap emotional manipulation. This film avoids most of the usual  traps, developing several realistic yet pretty unlikeable characters, not overusing dramatic tension and keeping well clear of the massively overused and simplistic good heroic protagonist vs evil psychopath theme.

I found the characters engaging because they were portrayed as realistic people full of faults and mental issues. Robert (Considine) had fled the big city after the breakdown of his marriage with the selfish and unsympathetic Nikki (Caroline Dhavernas) caused by his depression. He ends up in a confused relationship with the emotionally unstable Jenny (Julia Stiles) causing her ex-boyfriend Jack (Gord Rand) to turn nasty.

When Jack goes missing Robert becomes the prime suspect causing his employers, work colleagues and neighbours to shut the door on him. There are several plot twists but rather than using the usual trick of turning the dramatic tension up to 10 and then unleashing the plot twist, the twists in this film are done in a refreshingly understated way.

The biggest disappointment for me was the cliffhanger ending, but even this was reasonably well done linking back to several themes within the film rather than just leaving the protagonist in a dilemma to get people talking as they leave the cinema.

After watching the film I looked it up on Rotten Tomatoes and found that it had a pathetic 14% rating with critics and 25% audience approval. IMDb gives it a much more reasonable 61% approval rating but I'm still shocked to find that this film is so unpopular when I found it quite enjoyable.

I read several of the negative reviews and none of them really stated anything specific that they disliked about the film, they just generally slated it and gave poor review scores. I think the problem is that the psychological thriller has become such a predictable genre that these critics may have gone into the film expecting something that fits the formula but when they were served up a bedraggled and depressed protagonist, an emotionally disturbed female lead with crazy mystical beliefs and a death obsession, a shrew of an ex-wife and a vengeful ex-boyfriend they found themselves scrabbling to identify which of the characters they should be rooting for and when it became clear that as in real life the film has no hero, simply a set of characters suffering a range of mental health problems they decided that they didn't like it at all.

The film has faults, some of the imagery like the recurring crossroad scene is too simplistic but that is more than made up for by the film's idiosyncrasies like the supposedly loyal dog lapping the blood from his masters head would. I was inclined to give the film a higher mark just because it has been so widely slated but I'm going to stick to what I originally thought and give it a 3.

Overall review: 3  (what does this mean)

See also

The Cry of the Owl at Rotten Tomatoes

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