Nooooooo! You had it. You finished it perfectly, I was so proud, then you gave it another ending. An unsatisfactory, pragmatically problematic ending that undermined what made the movie so wonderful and original. This isn’t the kind of “I have such DOUBTS!” (delivered in a manner reminiscent of “KHAAAAAAN!”) that is utterly unforgivable and unjustifiable, that’s true. No, this one is a mistake of judgment where they’d have a better product if they closed at an hour twenty.
John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) had a tough childhood. The Norman Bates kind of childhood. Except that while Bates resented his “mother,” John was entirely dependent upon her. To cope, John has Emma (also Murphy) to cook and clean the place. It’s a pretty neat solution. They are completely separated–what one knows, the other may not. When a train derails and nearly kills Emma, the town of Peacock shows up. Now they’ve been introduced to who they think is John’s wife, they start to pay a lot more attention to what’s going on in that house. Mayor Crill (Keith Carradine) and his wife (Susan Sarandon) want to use the scene to jujitsu a senate campaign.
The law (Josh Lucas) needs to put things in order. “Hey, John, could you get Emma out here too so we can go over this paper work.” That’s tricky. Meanwhile, Maggie (Ellen Page) has run out of cash and wants to take Jake, their son, somewhere else. This is all a bit complicated, but things go from bad to much worse when Emma leaves the house and starts to do things that John might disagree with, like saying yes to the rally and getting Maggie in the local woman’s shelter. John is very upset by this. “She is not the boss of me!” Well, is she?
In probably every multiple-personality movie I’ve ever seen, the other personality is basically a demon that needs exercising. The best example I can’t name because it’d be an atrocious spoiler. Me, Myself & Irene (2000) is a weaker substitute, Primal Fear (1996) is another. In any case, it’s a problem to be overcome. In this movie–awesome–that script is flipped. It’s Emma who I (and I presume “we”) want to win this battle. John is such a barely functional with control issues while Emma is mousey, but kind hearted, and a much better influence on those around him (namely, Maggie).
The problem is that Emma doesn’t have the equipment to match the name. Still, that’s fine. It takes all kinds. Let John bleed into the background and let Emma win out. Weird, right? But in a cool way. Great premise from writers Michael Lander and Ryan O Roy.
Obviously this requires Murphy to give us everything he’s got. He does a very good job. I think there might have been more that could have been made out of the part(s), but that might have more to do with direction. Do you want Emma to be so genuinely feminine that you start to doubt that a normal lunatic could act that well? I’d have preferred that. Especially since John is so crippling awkward that it doesn’t even resonate with me. Still, it is very good (if not perfect).
His support is middling-to-good. Most is required of Ellen Page. Much like Murphy, she was technically strong without being wholly convincing. Again, either that was a deficiency of inspiration on the actors’ part or a failure of direction. The single mother looking for an out is well within the imagination. She needed to be more concerned with the child, the squalor more heightened, and the cute less apparent. Because I like Page so much, I’m going to pin this on the director.
Oh, and Susan Sarandon is impeccable. She could have phoned it in, but she seemed to care enough to give the character some mass. I expected a little more from Josh Lucas as the local sheriff. Where he could have made that character a little more real, he just phoned it in. Example. John tells him that his mother put his head under water to which Lucas replies in an accusatory “She did?” Artless, I thought.
Oh, and Bill Pullman was almost bad. That was wrong-headed casting.
So, this much maligned co-writer/director Michael Lander, how did he do? Pretty well, on the whole. The pacing was strong, the camera work thoughtful (perhaps too thoughtful), and the tone consistently bleak. If that’s his vision of the movie, you can’t fault him for the execution. Well, yeah you can. The use of music was too intrusive at times when it was usually just mood-setting. But that didn’t happen frequently.
As I mentioned before, they got the ending wrong. That’s near blasphemy for me. Nothing is “wrong.” But the film was made in such a way that leads me to believe that the last five minutes were the subject of debate. Well, the wrong side won, I’m certain of that. It’s like they asked themselves the question “But what happens once [spoiler] [spoiler]?” and threw in the final scene as an answer to that question. Foolish.
I’m a little hard on this one, but I am so supportive of most of it. It was very original and kept an iron grip on the tension and confusion. In the abstract, I prefer a more emotionally dynamic movie, but there’s something to be said for staying bleak. Well worth a watch.