E1 Entertainment // 2008 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // February 1st, 2010
Robert Pattinson loses the fangs for a crazy moustache in this biopic of Salvador Dali.
It's probably worth noting at the beginning of this review that I am not a Robert Pattinson hater. He was ghastly in last year's New Moon, but I found him perfectly watchable in the initial Twilight effort and in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That said, I really detested his performance in Little Ashes and the motion picture as a whole. Rarely does a movie so utterly uninspired and drably compiled come about, but when they do it's a serious cause for concern. The film was shot around the same time that Twilight was, and it's only on the back of that movie's success and Pattinson's uncontrollable popularity that this turgid biopic was allowed to see the light of day. I honestly had fairly high hopes for Little Ashes, but it's a masturbatory exercise in bad acting and aggressively pompous direction.
The film opens in 1922 as Salvador Dali (Robert Pattinson, Twilight) arrives at the legendary School of Fine Arts in Madrid, quick to befriend the intelligent and ambitious Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran, El Paso) and Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty, Looking for Eric). The three have radical views that are set to change the highly censored artistic landscape of the time, but a bond emerges within the group that hints at a forbidden love and dangerous secret. The film is reportedly drawn from the memories and recollections of Dali himself, so I guess that makes it pretty accurate and reliable.
I'm not going to rant too long on the subject of Little Ashes, but it's an awfully boring picture packed with stilted and amateurish filmmaking. The movie doesn't deserve to be seen by a wider audience, and had Pattinson not become the most lusted after male on the planet, I strongly suspect it never would. The one genuine positive is that the film was actually shot in Spain and features some terrifically exotic and beautiful scenery along with a natural claustrophobic heat that really legitimates the surroundings. This manipulation of the natural environment is the strongest facet I could detect and the only element that didn't make me want to tear my eyes from their sockets in an intense fit of boredom.
The performances are weak from all corners, especially from Pattinson, who affects a silly Spanish accent from time to time. There is absolutely no heat between Pattinson and Beltran and thus the story loses much power due to a lack of emotional conviction. This is meant to be the story of a friendship that heads into uncertain waters, yet not once did I feel a connection with the soggy and struggling leading actors. If this story was to get the treatment it deserves, then surely more accomplished thespians were a must; a director as insubstantial and aesthetically arrogant as Paul Morrison doesn't help matters either. Morrison displays no understanding of how to guide actors or indeed pace and edit a motion picture, but appears to be an expert in the creation of languid yet meaningless shots, desperately scrambling to imbue the film with a sense of art-house mystique. Not only does this infuriate by elongating the running time, it also seems to replace the need for dramatic sequences of character construction. I'm not going to retract my negative opinion concerning the acting, but I do feel the majority of the blame probably lies at Morrison's feet. After all, with a director this clueless, any actor would be facing an uphill battle from the outset.
The movie has some educational value and it runs through the relationship at the story's heart as chronologically and plainly as possible, but it has no depth. At least it's easy to grasp the facts concerning the time and era. The musical score also marks an irritable bust, it's repetitive and clichéd, adding to the disgusting aura of tedium. I really didn't like Little Ashes and its attempts to be seductive and meaningful are few and failed. Salvador Dali enthusiasts will already be aware of everything the movie offers and anyone else probably won't have much interest anyway. This is a tired and poorly made biopic that deserves a quick DVD release and then to be abruptly cast into cinematic obscurity. The DVD contains interviews with key cast members and Morrison as the only extra, and they don't make for a particularly satisfactory addition to the unfortunate main feature.
Little Ashes is without a doubt guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R