CAST: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gray Harden, Rita Ora, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie
DIRECTOR: Sam Taylor-Johnson
WRITER: Kelly Marcel, E.L. James
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey
No other film in recent recollection has generated more anticipation, debate, and interest than the screen adaptation of E.L. James’ publishing hit. For die-hard fans, it is a not-to-be-missed occasion to see the characters fleshed out in celluloid spectacle. For haters, a golden moment to corroborate their long-held criticisms. For others, like me, it is a chance to understand all the bondage brouhaha. Expectations run high because the source material is the stuff of smut silliness. Therefore, it is a terrible disappointment, since it is nothing but a staid melodrama bereft of notable erotic scenes.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson, a competent filmmaker by all accounts, tried her best to create a decent movie out of the books. First, it is apparent she sought out to make Steele the more significant character, a good decision since Johnson is a terrific actress. Second, most, if not all the carnal encounters of the lead characters are done in tasteful manner. There is consideration as the camera pans from her breasts, to her thighs, to his torso, to his buttocks. There is gentleness as the ice cube slides or as the peacock feather bristles her skin. Still, no amount of artistic competence and restraint can make up for its biggest problem, the source material. The third act, for example, is a tedious back and forth discourse about an unsigned contract. To be fair, the contract bargaining is the highlight of the entire film — a skilled, modern presentation of gender politics and argumentation of the acceptable and the taboo. But it is not enough to make up for all the sins of the entire film. Unless the filmmakers abandon the books altogether, the adaptation shall remain dreadful.
Dreadful is also the apt description for the performance of Jamie Dornan. If it is too harsh, then lackluster. Dull and colorless, his acting range seems limited to taking his shirt off. He has the charisma of an unused bottle Creating something more out of his character, like adding nuance perhaps, could make it better. Johnson did more for her role as she injected humor and understanding to a character suffering from repetitious lip-biting. Still, there is no guarantee if other actors could provide a better Christian experience; but it is certain Dornan is not the man for the spanking job. Michael Fassbender has the requisite charisma and brutish presence to make the character successful but he is too smart to take on such a role.
The surprising dreariness prompts one to ask if camping is the proper response to the problem. Each time I see the Red Room of Pain, I kept hoping it is a prelude to an all-out blindfolded, tied up, cuffed-up forbidden chamber action, just so to break the boredom. All sorts of tools of the kink trade litter the infamous room. Perverse accouterments like chains, floggers, and specialized furniture are arranged throughout the dungeon of desire. None of it utilized except for one flogger at the latter end of the film. In hindsight though, I felt the director made the correct decision of not camping up the film. She is too intelligent for such gimmicks. Chances are, she and Dakota Johnson, will come out battered and bruised from the potential camp catastrophe. A misfortune if it happens because Johnson is a revelation.
Much has been said about the infantile depiction of carnal pleasures in modern films. Despite the copious amount of skin, most films lack the heart and soul to arouse the audience into proper and mature reflection. Good erotic films heighten the senses, seduce the imagination, and provide real hones emotions. None of these qualities are present in this film.
NOTE: MY GOAL IS TO WATCH 300 FILMS AND THE FIFTY SHADES OF GREY IS THE 32ND FILM I HAVE SEEN THIS YEAR.
MORE ON MY FILM DIARY http://letterboxd.com/jowanabueser/films/diary/