“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A lot of movies about family problems seem to insist that it’s just one member who ruins it for everyone — the proverbial “black sheep” if you will. But in real life it’s rare that a family problem is caused by a single person since, after all, (to use another cliche) it takes two to tango. The Eye of the Storm is based on perhaps one of the most unlikable family units involved in a fight that I’ve seen in a film… and I’ve seen Killer Joe.
Like unfortunately too many families, the Hunter family waits until someone is dying to try to solve their dysfunctions — and as in many of those cases, it seems more out of a struggle of inheritance than one of making amends. Both Basil and Dorothy have come to Australia from Europe to see their dying mother, Elizabeth (Charlotte Rampling). Basil (Geoffrey Rush) is a foppish, aging actor who never stops eating and has trouble with impotence, and Dorothy (Judy Davis) is a princess in title only — her divorce from a prince has left her with very little money but all the prestige associated with royalty. The interactions between the three are full of snide remarks resulting from deep-seeded anger from their youth, and it doesn’t help that Elizabeth spends half the time reliving moments of her life when she was younger and first hurt her daughter (and her wonderful line, “sleep just wakes me up” suggests which reality she prefers). As a result, Elizabeth treats her nursing and housemaid staff, including nurse Flora (Alexandra Schepisi) who finds herself in a whirlwind (in a disastrous sort of way) romance with Basil and Lotte (Helen Morse), a housekeeper who would rather dance for Elizabeth than, well, keep house.
As odd is this sounds, the story, which is based on the 600+ page Nobel Prize winning novel, is the film’s weak point, although I find it hard to lay any blame on the original novel or on screenwriter Judy Morris (Happy Feet). Adapting such a lengthy book into a two hour film is a nearly impossible task, yet Morris was able to capture the theme of the family’s struggle. The strength is with the acting, as Rush, Rampling, and Davis are all wonderful, and I would’ve gladly have watched another half hour of them interacting through the obviously cut-up story (and I was the “only” in the “standing room only” at my screening). In particular, Basil could have used a bigger spotlight — not just because of Rush, but because the movie makes it very clear why Dorothy has a troubled relationship with her mother, but Basil’s issues with her are not so well defined, so there’s little reason to feel sympathy for him since he seems to be just an egomaniac.
There are other plotlines that could have used more clarification — like exactly what was the nature of the relationship between Elizabeth and her husband, the connection between the Hunter family and the Macrory family, and the connection between Flora and her chemist boyfriend (is he her boyfriend? The relationship is never made clear). Flora seems like a wonderful character, and Alexandra Schepisi (daughter of director Frank Schepisi) is wonderful in the role, but exactly why she’s so offended by Basil’s remarks about their relationship (how can she blame him for being shallow when she herself seemed to only want to bed him because he’s a famous actor?) deserves a lot more exploration than what’s here in the final film.
The cinematography and colors used throughout the film are beautiful, and this movie has all the necessary pieces to be a great drama — it’s like a Merchant-Ivory film, except with a lot of humor in its first hour — but curiously the end result isn’t as cinematic as it should be. It appears director Frank Schepisi and Morris did the best they could in getting as much of the novel in the film, but perhaps a longer film (or alternately a mini-series) could have helped with establishing more of the backstory to make the family’s issues more hard-hitting.
As it is, this is a movie about three unlikable characters fighting over an inheritance, with the only moments of sympathy coming in the film’s rushed final half-hour. It’s a wonderfully acted and competently made film, but the impossible task of adapting such a massive tome into a two-hour film was just too much for the cast and crew.
Rating: Beautiful in so many ways, but what’s compelling on the page isn’t always compelling on the screen (6.0)
Check Movie Buzzers later this week for EXCLUSIVE coverage of the film’s New York premiere!
The Eye of the Storm will be released in select theaters on September 7 and will also be available on Video on Demand