Lionsgate // 1999 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // July 25th, 2002
"Well, happy is not a word I care to use now." -- Dr. Croly (Stephen Dillane)
On an Irish island estate at the turn of the century, a woman lives alone and broods about the past. Nine years earlier, in 1896, she was the talk of the town. Strong-willed (even divorced!), Agnes McDonnell (Greta Scacchi) was the wealthiest landowner on the island. But when she fell for the clever James Lynchehaun (Daniel Craig), everything soon fell apart.
Love and Rage is meant to be a story of obsessive love, but it never builds up sufficient momentum to generate suspense. Lynchehaun fancies himself a shrewd manipulator, using sex appeal to get what he wants from both men and women, but he ultimately comes across as a dull-witted opportunist, barely clever enough to deceive a woman who seems rather desperate to be deceived. Agnes seems more of a type than a fleshed-out character, and everyone goes through their paces mostly because the script tells them so. This is all apparently based on a true story (Synge's famous play The Playboy of the Western World was inspired by Lynchehaun). But unless you really know the case well, much of the background makes little sense, and the characters' motivations feel forced.
The whole business comes across like one of those cookie-cutter novels that middle-aged married women read at the beach. Sexual tension never gets above a television soap opera. For instance, the first sex scene between Agnes and James plays out as a gay bondage-themed roleplay that ends abruptly, coming across as more awkward and silly than sexually transgressive. Actually, all of the sex scenes have a pathetic appeal. Is director Cathal Black deliberately skimming the edges of farce here?
It is hard to tell, because the director seems more interested in lighting (check out all the red and green gels everywhere) and set décor than emotional impact. Of course, the story has its requisite "revenge" sequence in the third act, but since we are never clear on anyone's motivations, the violence lacks tension. And like the sex, it seems to fizzle out pretty quickly, leading to an overlong and awkward coda that drags the film into near incoherence.
No extras (apart from a trailer), not even an insert, and an indifferent transfer that seems just a tad blurry -- Lions Gate does not seem much entranced with the film either. Love and Rage is technically competent but hollow. The Love is not very sexy, and the Rage is not very intense. So what is left?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* The Real Story of Agnes McDonnell and James Lynchehaun