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Case Number 04470

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Girl With A Pearl Earring

Lionsgate // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 24th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson prepares for the onslaught of feedback this review may generate, using his wife as a human shield.

Editor's Note

Our review of Scarlett Johansson Collection, published April 13th, 2009, is also available.

The Charge

Beauty inspires obsession.

Opening Statement

Scarlett Johannson has quickly become one of the more sought-after young starlets these days. This movie, a period piece offering a glimpse into the enigmatic life of storied painter Johannes Vermeer, helped her catapult to the A-list, if not, certainly the B+ list.

Facts of the Case

Griet (Johannson, Lost in Translation), a young woman from a poor family, is charged with supporting the brood when her father—a tile-maker—is struck blind. She heads off to serve as a maid in Johannes Vermeer's home. Vermeer (Colin Firth, Love Actually) and his family are fairly issue-laden, and the fact that they depend on the sleazy Master van Ruijven for patronage brings added tension to their dynamic.

Vermeer's mother-in-law handles the finances, the general homemaking, and sucking up to Master van Ruijven. Vermeer's wife, Catharina, is as high-maintenance as you get, paranoid, emotional, and bitterly jealous. She doesn't lift a finger around the house. Then there's the Master painter himself, Vermeer, who holes up in his loft, creating his masterwork, and generally maintaining a fairly low-key existence.

As he forms a relationship with the modest Griet, he finds her beauty inspiring. The lecherous Master van Ruijven also finds Griet inspiring, but in a different, more horny way. Vermeer is then charged to paint Griet.

Griet finds herself thrust into the middle of a whole web of dynamics—the budding romance between herself and the young butcher, her wide-eyed awe at Vermeer's talent, the battiness and envy of Catherine, and the slippery approaches of Master van Ruijven.

All of this culminates, once Vermeer's timeless work is finally revealed.

The Evidence

Funny, but this is the second movie I've reviewed that deals with the fictitious origin of a Johannes Vermeer painting (the first was Hallmark's Brush With Fate.)

Well, if it seems like the plot wrap-up seemed a tad asthmatic that's because, frankly, the plot was asthmatic. Fans of the movie may crucify me, but I just didn't find the threadbare story particularly involving.

On the "Anatomy of a Scene" bonus feature, one of the filmmakers described the movie as a "domestic thriller." He's half-right. By and large the entire movie takes place in Vermeer's home, but "thrilling" is one word I would not affix to it.

Yeah, I know thrilling doesn't automatically equal gunfire and exploding heads. (I'm caveman-like, but not that caveman-like.) Girl With a Pearl Earring is not thrilling.

The sparse story that is present is not told in an engaging way. Even if the film rocketed forward with kinetic narrative, I honestly don't think there is enough story to make it substantial.

One of the problems I had with the movie is that there really is nothing much at stake. Basically, two characters generated all of the movie's conflict: Master van Ruijven and Vermeer's piss-ant little daughter, who in turn tattled all the way to psychologically-unbalanced mommy, who then did all the screaming and crying and near-painting assaulting.

Why these two characters were so intent on being jackasses is not compelling. Master van Ruijven basically couldn't keep it in his pants long enough to buckle up and the daughter is just a spoiled little brat.

This left Griet and Vermeer to simply react to the conflict swirling around them, and neither did so in a particularly believable way. Vermeer's wife burned with paranoid jealousy, but the Master Painter never took it upon himself to straighten out the story.

Griet's butcher boy-toy, played by Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later fame, didn't seem to serve much purpose at all. Their relationship is never resolved. Some may argue that their camaraderie isn't what is crucial to the film, but I would say: then why bother? It just seemed forced.

Maybe I wouldn't have had time to ponder these demerits if the movie had been paced better. The whole affair lulled along.

What was really good about the film was the setting. Through the costumes and sets, the movie looked as if it could have been shot on site in the 1600s. Girl With a Pearl Earring certainly deserved the Oscar nominations it received for art direction and costume design.

Let me tell you, ladies and gents, the shoddy-ass transfer on this disc did NOT do any of the art direction justice. Heck, it laughed in the face of the art direction, saying things like "You're stupid!" and "You're a jerk!" The picture suffers from some blatantly obvious edge enhancement in places, some night scenes are so grainy the action is nigh-indiscernible, and the entire look seems very washed out; which is a shame, of course, seeing that rich color and sharp visuals would be especially important to a movie about art!

The movie boasts a 5.1 mix, but for the most part the sound is front loaded, with the center channel shouldering 90% of the audio responsibility. When the score steps in—your typical period-piece sweeping orchestral epic—the fronts and even the rears are given a little more to do.

Bonus materials include the "Anatomy of a Scene," where the filmmakers offer tidbits about where they came from in making the movie, as well as a step-by-step walkthrough of filming the banquet scene. Lastly, a strikingly anachronistic rock video is included, starring a very un-Griet-looking Scarlett Johansson.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I will admit that the chemistry between Griet and Vermeer, boiling under the mandatory modesty and restraint was well done. Both actors effectively portrayed a sort of forbidden fruit romance kindled beneath their stoicism, but it just wasn't enough to capture me.

Closing Statement

Before I'm lambasted that I was too hard on the movie, allow me this: I saw this with my wife, who had been anticipating the movie, and who had read the book, and she agreed the film crept along too slowly. There, I said it. I've invoked the Wife Defense®, so I'm immune to harsh criticism. Thank you everyone, and have a great night!

The Verdict

The accused is sentenced to do time alongside Brush With Fate in the Mediocre Movies About Vermeer maximum-security wing of my DVD library. Lions Gate is to be taken out back and stabbed with day-old crusty paintbrushes for a pathetic video transfer.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 60
Audio: 85
Extras: 85
Acting: 90
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Drama
• Romance

Distinguishing Marks

• Anatomy of a Scene
• Music Video
• Trailers


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