Artisan // 2002 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // December 20th, 2003
Two love stories hinge on one secret
When his cancer-riddled mother dies, Michael is left with a pile of bills and no visible means of support. He takes a job at a nursing home, doing basically what he did for terminal mom without the uniform and mandatory 401(k). He meets Helen, the helpful head of the facility, Alice the snooty daughter of a State official, and Esther, a quiet resident with a chip on her shoulder the size of Sweden. After several attempts at conversation, Esther opens up and Michael discovers that she is bitter over a failed romance that never came to fruition. He can definitely understand. His girlfriend Faye has just been offered a chance to go to medical school all the way across the country in California, but her dad wants Mike to drop out of the scene, to let her go on to study without the social burden of a deadbeat boyfriend around her neck. Well, the raging Romeo reluctantly agrees and Esther explains how this was the wrong thing to do. All she has is a sad, golden memento of her love of Thomas and nothing else. But when Michael is suddenly accused of killing a patient in the hospital (and stealing drugs from the dispensary), old childhood wounds revolving around his alcoholic father reemerge and, while innocent, he is ready to give in. Thanks to Esther, and the story of The Locket, he learns to have faith in himself and forgive the past. But he still must face a jury to determine his obviously framed fate.
So manipulative that it might as well be a chiropractor, and filled with enough metaphysical improbabilities that it keeps the Dalai Lama up at night, The Locket is a typical tearjerker disguised as a hard luck loser's redemption. Even the NFL doesn't allow this much piling on and yet our hero, the intrepid nice guy Michael, is just supposed to take life's sucker punches like a cold-cocked good sport. Indeed, Mikey is the perfect victim: kind, considerate, and more than willing to beat himself up over issues that Hollywood melodramas dropped as cliché around the time of King Vidor's last chick flick. So with all this psychological abuse, you'd think he was a pathetic whiner, constantly complaining about the shaft life keeps colonoscopizing him with. But you'd be wrong. Mike is gracious in his screwing over. He wants to be a doormat, a human hubris receptacle for all those surrounding him who think that their skidmarks don't stink. That's why his girlfriend's father finds him an easy accomplice. All he has to do is ask and Mike sheepishly acquiesces, self-separating from the med school bound main squeeze. That's why the rich snitch well-connected Alice can easily frame him for her elderly torture for prescriptions racket. And it's why the kindly old coot Esther Huish (pronounced "aged cinematic stereotype") can so readily manipulate him into giving a turd about her sappy, stupid story of love lost and...well, basically continuing to be lost. The Locket is supposed to be about life lessons and all, about forgiving your past and having faith, but it's really nothing more than a series of scripted catastrophes that Esther manages to magically make disappear, like a crotchety maternal merlin.
This film doesn't want to limit its conscience control over you with simple characters communicating their inner most feelings to each other in intelligent, honest ways. No, it needs to cheat knowing that your average homemaker is probably not sitting around their parlor waiting to witness My Nutritionally Correct Meal with the Orderly. It must add alcoholism, cancer, the depressing plight of the aged in nursing homes, abuse in said prison for pensioners, drug scandals, parental abandonment, mental retardation, the VA hospital system, and rejected romance to the saga to make the movie's ersatz engrossing. But you know nothing bad is really going to happen. This is TV, after all. The lone saving grace here is the acting. Up until the final courtroom scenes, Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell is warm and welcoming as the nursing home head, and Lori Heuring's Alice hides her villainous truth behind a veil of take-this-job-and-shove-it jocularity. Terry O'Quinn plays Michael's drunken father with a lot less boozehound histrionics than the role demands, and as one of the old folks at home, Brock Peters sells his inner pain with wonderfully expressive eyes (good thing; he has about three lines total). But in the leads we see a strange, strained separation. It's hard to knock Vanessa Redgrave; Oscar winner, political activist, fine dramatic actress. But her work here seems phoned in, made up of manner peculiarities (stilted voice, osteoporosis posture, and Parkinson's hands a'flutter) that don't really give us a clue to her internal self. On the other hand, Chad Willett is very convincing as the wide-eyed innocent who keeps getting the Phillips head of fate's hand tool shoved up his backside. His natural demeanor can seem a tad tepid, but at least he's not trying to be a jittery homespun Hepburn like his famous co-star. If acting alone were all The Locket was about, it would be an enjoyable, emotional film, but thanks to the hand-cranked cornpone of the overloaded script, this melodramatic mess just bloats and then burns out.
Thanks to Karen Arthur's professional, TV-appropriate direction and Wilmington, North Carolina's scenic venues, The Locket looks very lush and vibrant even in a 1.33:1 full screen offering. Colors are bold and there are no pixelization or transfer troubles. Equally efficient in the Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround sound audio, which captures the quiet dignity of the nursing home environment perfectly without once sacrificing the dialogue. As for bonus features, we do get some page-through essays that help us circumnavigate the plot, the people, and the actors involved. Along with some more reading material about select actors, that's all the extra content here. Too bad, since it would have been nice to hear from the actors about how they approached the material, what they thought of the overly elaborate plotline and working with such a stellar cast. But even if they told you who killed Kennedy, what happened to the missing people in the Bermuda Triangle, and tracked Bigfoot's exact location, it would still not be enough information penance to forgive this syrupy drivel.
A locket usually contains some hidden treasure, a picture or memento of something special from the past. All this DVD Locket contains is a vacant vacation from the real world via manufactured emotion. Some keepsake.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Notes
* Cast Biographies
* Cast and Credits Information