Judge Jim Thomas found this movie to be a remarkable example of ZZZZzzzzzzzzz...
Martine Jamison (Winona Ryder, Black Swan), a writer/director, is beginning rehearsals for her new play starring her boyfriend Raymond (Josh Hamilton, J. Edgar), who's playing opposite a young beauty (Marin Ireland, Hope Springs). They are joined by an unknown newcomer, Tyrone (James Franco, 127 Hours), who develops a peculiar fascination with Martine and is openly hostile to all others. As rehearsals continue, Martine has periods of disorientation that quickly deteriorate into vivid hallucinations as she becomes convinced someone is trying to poison her. As Martine's mental state devolves, she begins to rewrite her play, and art and life become inseparable.
Winona Ryder is, if anything, lovelier than ever—and she does a good job showing us a woman who's slowing losing her grip on reality.
That, by the way, will be the only positive things that I have to say about The Letter, because this is a bad movie.
I get what they seem to be going for—depicting a woman's psychological collapse from her perspective, gradually. Still, we need some reason to identify with the lead beyond the fact that she's played by Winona Ryder, and that never happens. Worse, the rest of the characters are simply ciphers. We know nothing about them, particularly once the lines between reality and the play start to blur in Martine's mind. Tyrone acts so dickishly that we are clearly meant to view him as someone sinister, right up until what appears to be an attempt at a SURPRISE! TWIST! ENDING! that makes less sense that M. Night Shymalan's last few movies. The problems is that since everything we know is filtering through the perception of someone going mad, we have no way of determining what's real. That sort of thing can work, but it takes a strong script, a strong director, and a strong performance; we only get the third here.
The narration is particularly troublesome, partly because it takes so long for any semblance of cohesion to emerge, but partly because Ryder delivers it as though Martine is speaking while tranqued to the gills. As a general rule, a confusing plot, uninteresting characters, and a leaden, monotone narration are not conducive to maintaining an audience's focus.
Technically the disc is a mess, though to be fair, I suspect much of that is intentional. Presented in standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, many scenes are quite muddy, perhaps to suggest the boundaries of Martine's reality are starting to unravel. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on that one. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track is solid, servicing clear dialogue and a score from composers Ty Anania and Brian Jones. There are no extras.
Try as I might, I can't shake the feeling that they decided to cast Franco based solely on his performance at the 2011 Oscars.
If they really want to make some money, they should market this film as an
insomnia cure. Guilty.
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