Judge Clark Douglas was rather incensed.
The truth can blow you apart.
A young mother (Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain) is a bit exasperated with her life. She has a 4-year-old son that she loves very much, but he's quite a handful. Her husband works on an emergency bomb squad, a job that leaves him feeling stressed out and unfriendly. As a result, the marriage is tense and unpleasant. She just needs a break. In a moment of weakness, she falls for a friendly journalist (Ewan McGregor, Big Fish) and begins a passionate affair. During a particularly torrid moment at the journalist's apartment, tragedy strikes: a bomb goes off inside a large soccer stadium. Horrifically, the young mother's son and husband were killed in the blast. The mother is devastated. She feels intense guilt for abandoning her family during their final days, and also feels extremely disoriented. Why would anyone want to do such a thing? The answer is a complicated and diabolical one, and together, the journalist and the mother work their way towards the ugly truth.
A history of tragedy surrounds Incendiary. The novel of the same name was written by Chris Cleave, who was inspired to tell the story in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. The book was published on July 7th, 2005…the very same day that London was bombed (an attack frighteningly similar to the one detailed in the book). The film was released around the same time that Heath Ledger (Williams' ex, and the father of her child) passed away. The film is carrying a lot of emotional baggage, both internally and externally. In the right hands, it could have been a profoundly moving experience. Sadly, this particular version of Incendiary seems trite and artificial, rarely hitting the right notes in a story that so desperately depends on them.
The film begins as most tragic films begin, on a note of extreme happiness. Five minutes are dedicated to joyful moments of bliss between a mother and a child. These scenes exist solely so that we can flash back to them during the painful moments and be reminded of the fact that once upon a time this woman's life was much better than it is right now. It's not a good way to start, as we immediately begin to suspect contrivance; forcing viewers to start searching for similarly suspect elements. Sadly, such elements are by no means in short supply here. Moment after moment piles onto the ungainly emotional manipulation.
When a married woman in a film falls in love with another man, on almost every occasion, the film has to find a way to excuse the woman by making the husband a jerk. Not only does this make it too easy to root for the woman to fall for the other (almost always more handsome) guy, but it makes the ultimate outcome much too obvious. Curiously, this film gets rid of the jerk husband not to allow the wife to see some other fellow, but two other fellows. The first, as mentioned in the plot description above, is Ewan McGregor. The other contender for the young woman's heart is a police investigator played by Matthew MacFayden (Pride and Prejudice). The love triangle plot is handled with sweetness and reasonable maturity, but it feels so agonizingly trivial and inappropriate in the wake of a bombing that killed thousands of people. Ultimately, it makes the film's big tragedy feel like nothing more than a cheap plot device. The film was directed by Sharon Maguire, who previously helmed Bridget Jones' Diary. Sadly, this film feels far more like that one than it should.
The film's problems do not stop with the inappropriate emotional manipulation. The dialogue here is often very poorly-conceived. There are romantic exchanges between McGregor and Williams that approach the level of the Anakin/Padme scenes in the Star Wars prequels. Particularly cringe-worthy are the sequences in which Williams narrates a letter she has written to Osama Bin Laden: "Dear Osama…when that bomb went off, did you dance with joy? Did you pray and thank your God? I prayed, too. I prayed that my little boy would still be alive." Williams is actually quite good during numerous scenes, but she's simply forced to utter some really bad writing on a semi-regular basis.
I can't officially comment on the transfer or audio here, as I'm reviewing a screener disc sent to me well in advance of the film's official DVD release (you know the kind, with the incessant black-and-white scenes telling me the disc is not for sale or rent). There are also no extras included on this disc, though I believe the official release will contain some interviews with the cast and crew.
For all the film's weaknesses on a plotting level, it should be noted that the technical elements are nothing short of superb. The film looks and feels very convincing, and is absolutely professional in terms of costume and set design. Also, I did quite like one scene between Williams and Macfayden that offers an effectively staged argument about terrorism and how to deal with it (one approachs it from an emotional point of view, while the other approaches it from a logical point of view).
A well-intentioned mess of a movie that wastes a strong cast on a poor screenplay. A real disappointment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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