Universal // 2011 // 121 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // August 11th, 2011
Cary Fukunaga brings Jane Eyre to a new generation.
I've struggled to maintain enthusiasm for adaptations of 19th Century literature; some have admittedly been great, but a genuine sense of decay has worn into my thirst for viewing cinematic interpretations of these classic stories. Written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847, Jane Eyre ranks amongst the most notable works produced within this era, the tale now reinvented for the screen via Sin Nombre helmer Cary Fukunaga. Since moving into limited release earlier this year Jane Eyre has received strong reviews, some critics going as far to label it the best version of the story yet. I don't get it. The picture is beautifully photographed and meticulously sculpted, but in the title role Mia Wasikowska (last year's Alice in Wonderland) is asleep, drifting through the picture like a vacant drone.
After an upbringing filled with misery and rejection, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) is brought to Thornfield Hall to act as governess. She quickly becomes curious concerning her mysterious employer, the brooding and exceptionally wealthy Rochester (Michael Fassbender, X-Men: First Class). Rochester and Jane form a connection, an uncertain bond that slowly matures into love. However Rochester is hiding a horrible secret, which unbeknown to Jane will inject further distress into her already tragic life.
In a bid to freshen up the story, Fukunaga scrambles the narrative timeline a little, kicking the picture off with an upset Jane fleeing Thornfield. It's a hackneyed trick but not one I've ever seen applied to Jane Eyre, the director at least getting things started on a frenzied and emotionally charged note. However the script doesn't take long to reset, quickly pulling the story back to Jane's origins and her torrid schooling experience. >From there it's business as usual, Fukunaga charting the dynamic between Rochester and Jane moodily. At two hours Jane Eyre flows pretty effectively; certainly, Fukunaga hasn't drawn the tale out to an insufferable length. It's a well-planned retelling of this classic piece of literature, hitting the necessary beats with the maximum amount of visual panache.
The cinematography is rich and atmospheric, perfectly reflecting Jane's forlorn and exhausted mindset. The landscapes are richly depicted, with the sets and production values granting the film a picturesque and eerily beautiful aesthetic. Certainly a great deal of care has been taken to ensure this update leaves a lavish technical impression on viewers, it's a pleasure to look at.
Jane's character arc is articulated adequately (although hardly exceptionally) by Moira Buffini's (Tamara Drewe) screenplay, but unfortunately one bad casting choice deals a serious blow to the picture's credibility. In the role of Jane, Mia Wasikowska is barely there, the actress sleepwalking through the flick with absolutely no conviction or sincerity. Granted the character of Jane is meant to be a fatigued and grief-stricken figure, but Wasikowska captures none of this, the performer mistaking lethargic line delivery for believable melancholy. It's a cruel blow, one that robs Fukunaga's movie of a truly engaging hook for the audience to sympathize with. On the other hand Fassbender makes for a subtle and complex Rochester, the actor addressing the character's numerous layers and underlying fears intriguingly. It's an excellent turn from the Irishman, but not quite enough to compensate for Wasikowska's dreary input.
The supporting cast is made up of an eclectic group of individuals, although the screenplay doesn't really give any of them much to do of substance. As Jane's abusive childhood guardian, Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go) is given only two scenes, one of which renders her bedridden. Jamie Bell (King Kong) is dependable as a clergyman upon whom Jane leaves quite an impression, but the script never really allows us to fully understand the character.
The DVD is solid, Universal providing a standard def presentation that honors the film's classy look. There's a decent amount of bonus features too, most prominently a commentary with Fukunaga. It's an acceptable track, answering many of the questions you'd want a filmmaker to assess when they tackle such a weighty adaptation. A few deleted scenes don't really expand on the movie at large, but a set of featurettes included are definitely worth a peek. I could've done without the one which masturbates over the movie's unremarkable soundtrack, but on the whole these are appropriate bedfellows for the superior commentary.
Jane Eyre is competent and perfectly watchable, though far from one of 2011's best films.
Not Guilty, but with minor reservations.
Review content copyright © 2011 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes