When he's not a British secret agent, Judge William Lee looks like a fool.
"I really don't like looking at myself through your eyes."
If you're still on the fence regarding Daniel Craig, Flashbacks of a Fool is further evidence that this guy can act. For those already in the appreciative camp, here's another chance to observe that impressive physique. But the big surprise is the strong ensemble of young actors that dominate the centerpiece of this movie.
Facts of the Case
Joe Scot (Daniel Craig, The Golden Compass) is a washed up Hollywood star wasting away on sex, booze and drugs in his oceanfront house. His agent thinks Scot's career is finished and dumps him during a lunch meeting. Processing the news of the sudden death of Boots, a friend he hasn't seen since leaving England, Scot recalls the summer when his childhood ended.
Joe Scot would never get cast as James Bond, but he's got the looks and the presence that might afford him some time as a flash in the pan Hollywood celebrity. His appetite for immediate gratification—he doesn't think twice about squandering his good fortune on hookers and drugs—might be an indicator of reckless immaturity or a deep-seated self-loathing. Daniel Craig taps into both motivations for his performance but leans toward the latter to depict Joe Scot as a magnificent train wreck. Craig has less than 30 minutes in which to convey this portrait of a falling star and he doesn't waste any of that screen time. On the surface, Scot has the persona of a star but there are cracks in his performance that show he's barely in control of himself. On the strength of the first act alone, this movie is at least worth renting. But the really good stuff is yet to come.
The middle section of the movie, set in the 1970s, is a flashback that follows the teenage Joe (Harry Eden, Peter Pan) during a hot and bothered summer at the English seaside. With his hormones raging, Joe is distracted when hanging out with his friend Boots. Instead of wasting time at the arcade, Joe wants to spend time with Ruth (Felicity Jones, Brideshead Revisited). Life is further complicated by Evelyn (Jodhi May, The Escapist), the bored housewife living at the neighboring beach house who tempts Joe with erotic possibilities.
The scenes involving Joe and the two loves of his teenage life are the best moments in the movie. There is a haunting, nostalgic quality to those moments that works really well. It isn't exactly realistic—remember, this is Joe's flashback of his childhood—but the mood feels like a vivid, romantic memory. When Ruth and Joe dress up as glam rockers and discuss the greatness of David Bowie and Roxy Music, the screen sizzles with youthful sexual tension. Jones plays Ruth with the perfect amount of sweetness and confidence. In contrast, you can practically smell the trouble brewing in Evelyn's pent up loneliness. With the bold sensual energy of May's performance it's no wonder Joe is captivated by her. Torn between pursuing Ruth and succumbing to Evelyn's seduction, this is Joe on the threshold of losing his innocence.
The look of the movie really complements the feeling of Joe slightly adrift from reality. The English beach of his flashback, constantly being pounded by waves under an intense sun, looks like the landscape of an endless summer. Similarly, the oceanfront views of the present day timeline have a certain surreal quality with the shores of South Africa standing in for California. The restaurant where Joe meets his agent for a lunch meeting feels like a sterile version of an upscale L.A. eatery. The authenticity lost in these locations adds to Joe's disconnected perspective of his reality.
This Anchor Bay release covers the minimum expectations for DVD supplements with a handful of so-so special features. There are two UK television spots and a theatrical trailer that summarizes the movie—plainly giving away the moment that dramatically changes Joe's story. The short "Interviews with Cast and Crew" segment, running two and a half minutes, is a collection of responses recorded at a press junket.
The image is well presented on this DVD with sharply rendered details that don't have even a whisper of digital defects. The bright picture is slightly high-contrast at times—an intentional quality of the cinematography, it seems—but the colors retain their deep, warm boldness. The 5.1 Dolby Surround mix is quite satisfying. Dialogue is clear and there is a pleasing fullness to the sound effects and music.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The bookends to the story, Joe in present day, are handled quite nicely with Craig giving a very good performance as a Hollywood star in crisis. The middle act, depicting the summer when Joe's world changed, is likewise an exceptional realization of that moment when sexual eagerness prompts a young man to make terrible decisions. The problem is that these two storylines don't fit together. At the end of the middle act, a tragedy occurs that shatters Scot's adolescence. But there is a huge gap between Eden's runaway teen in England and Craig's burnt-out celebrity in Hollywood.
Scot's flashback is inspired by the news that his friend Boots has died, but we hardly get to know Boots at all. That summer was really about Ruth and Evelyn. The set up for the back story gives prominence to Boots so it is a little frustrating that writer-director Baillie Walsh pulls the bait and switch. It might have played better to lead into the flashback with news of one of the women from Scot's past. After all, they're the real source of his suppressed guilt.
The regrets of youth continue to haunt a man who never fully matured in Flashbacks of a Fool. The separate elements don't quite link up across the dual timelines of the story but there is enough to enjoy here nonetheless. A strong cast, evocative locations and a striking visual style make up for the shortcomings of the screenplay.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Interviews with Cast and Crew
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