Sony // 2009 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // February 27th, 2009
Everyone is Suspect.
Marie Belloc Lowndes' 1913 novel The Lodger has been filmed five times as of 2009. The first adaptation came from none other than Alfred Hitchcock, in the form of the 1927 silent work The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. The fifth take on Lowndes' book is by David Ondaatje, who transplants the book's time and setting to contemporary Los Angeles. But the fifth time is not the charm, as The Lodger handily demonstrates.
Someone in West Hollywood is murdering prostitutes in the same manner as England's Jack the Ripper. Assigned to the case are loose cannon Detective Chandler Manning (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2) and newbie Street Wilkenson (Shane West, A Walk to Remember). The case holds particular significance for Manning, as the killer's deeds appear to exonerate a man the detective arrested (and who was ultimately executed) several years ago.
Meanwhile, a quiet, privacy-seeking stranger named Malcolm (Simon Baker, The Mentalist) takes up residence in a guesthouse owned by Joe and Ellen Bunting (Donal Logue and Hope Davis). The bored and lonely Ellen is intrigued by her reclusive but attractive tenant, even when he begins to exhibit bizarre behavior -- burning a pair of pants on a grill, rummaging through the Buntings' home for scissors in the middle of the night -- acts that lead Ellen to wonder whether the lodger and the person responsible for the killings in her neighborhood are one and the same.
Spoilers ahead... Misdirection is the name of the game in David Ondaatje's The Lodger. The first-time feature writer-director is hell-bent on throwing as many red herrings at the audience as possible, no matter how ridiculous they get -- and they get plenty ridiculous. Unfortunately, rather than provoking nail-biting suspense, this technique mainly generates incredulity and proves to be a colossal waste of time, especially given the film's conclusion. Suspicion is cast on Bunting, Manning and, of course, Malcolm. Ondaatje even goes so far as to suggest that Ellen is the killer and that her lodger is a figment of her imagination.
It's ironic that one of the segments on the making-of featurette included on this disc is called "Less is More," because The Lodger offers up instance after instance in which that dictum is not followed. I've never read Lowndes' novel, so I have no idea what elements of the plot were hers and which are Ondaatje's, but either way this story is a mess. Why not focus on the lodger himself and his sketchy behavior, and build tension between his character and Ellen? Instead, we get the same police procedural that's been done time and again. We have a rule-breaking veteran detective in Manning, who steals evidence and pulls a gun on a records officer, and who is also part of a tired subplot involving a bitter, estranged daughter (Rachel Leigh Cook, She's All That) and a mentally ill wife. We have a naïve rookie in Wilkenson who, despite being treated like dirt by Manning for much of the film, continually places his own career in jeopardy by letting the detective tag along with him after he's not only been placed under suspension but also named as a suspect in the murders. And while we're picking nits, how the heck is Manning able to move so freely when he's under suspension? Didn't anyone think to put a tail on Wilkenson?
Something else discussed in that making-of doc is Ondaatje's visual tributes to Hitchcock scattered throughout the film. While there are certainly references to the master of suspense here and there, I don't know what Hitch would have made of Ondaatje's overall visual style. The latter filmmaker has apparently never met a time-lapse shot he didn't like, and he's also partial to unnecessary fast-motion shots.
Despite the presence of many talented actors, Ondaatje's rigorous obedience of the film's tagline makes it difficult for rounded, realistic characters to emerge from the maelstrom of time-lapses. Of the cast, Hope Davis fares the best as the fascinatingly subdued, and then awakened Ellen. As Malcolm, Simon Baker has the right look for the part and remains appropriately aloof and brooding, but he's not in the movie enough. Most of the rest of the cast is strictly one-note. Especially wasted is Philip Baker Hall as a crabby detective.
Sony's DVD of The Lodger boasts a sharp transfer. David A. Armstrong's cinematography is very dark for much of the film, and the disc handles this dim palette nicely for the most part. The Dolby 5.1 sound mix tidily conveys the film's dialogue and overused score (by John Frizzell). For extras, a slew of previews are included, along with roughly eight minutes of deleted scenes and the afore-mentioned making-of featurette, which clocks in at about 18 minutes. The deleted scenes have no introduction or commentary, and will probably hold interest only for the fanatical viewer. The making-of doc is actually fairly interesting when it sticks to details about making the film and not how funny certain cast members are.
Worth nothing more than a rental (and even then I wouldn't recommend it), it won't pay to let this Lodger into your DVD player.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes