September 23, 2003

Today I hated work. Then I came home and watched Brock Lesnar attempt to break Kurt Angle in half. Do I watch wrestling? No. Why do you ask?

And now for something completely different...
A Vampire Nomad Film Opinion.

Cold Creek Manor

I think the critics are missing the point of this movie. 'Cold Creek Manor' isn't a new and dazzling feat of storytelling majesty. It's like those painting books you had as kid where all the color was there in little capsules on the page and all you needed was a liberal amount of water applied in any old haphazard manner to make a masterpiece of Monet proportions appear. Everything in 'Cold Creek Manor' has been done before. The black pit? 'The Ring'. The dead horse? 'Godfather'. Nice guy with a family secret? 'Psycho'. It's not a startlingly original concept. Family gets out of city to big country manor. Manor has secret. Manor's former owner shows up and wants it back. Family resists. Owner gets mean. Family triumphs. But to focus only on the paint-by-numbers plot is to miss the beauty of the movie.

There are a few genuine jolts to be had along the way. The snakes were creepy. But the true allure of this film is in the performances. Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, and Stephen Dorff lift their characters out of stock footage and mesmerize. Stephen Dorff is not a simple villain. He layers so much raw honesty onto his ex-con that you're tempted at times to call him a misguided angel. It's not that he isn't unnerving. He invokes real skin-crawling distrust. But he's also complicated, wielding a potentially cliche victimhood back story as real angst, reaching through years of wrongs to make all the worst decisions about his future. There are moments when you want to believe he's falsely accused. You know he isn't. But wouldn't it be nice if he could just get a break? That's a difficult line to walk as a standard-issue bad guy and Stephen Dorff makes you believe him, makes you alternately feel for and loathe him. Then there's Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone as the city couple in country trouble. It is possible that these two actors were miscast, errantly placed in a pedantic film for which they are frightfully overqualified. It's because the film offers no real twists along the way to its conclusion that their performances are so beautifully rendered, however. With the responsibility of paying attention to the story cast aside you are free to enjoy all the nuances of their perfectly tuned communication. People who have been together any length of time learn to communicate in a wealth of silence and barely indicated motion. They can start and end an argument in a single look. Hollywood so rarely manages to capture that and instead tends to send its leads out of the room for plodding narrative exchanges. Not so here. In Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone's hands, Cooper and Leah Tilson come to telepathic married life. He glances at her while stalling for an answer with a hedged "well, uh" and the slightest pull of her lips and tilt to her head confirms what his eyes were asking. They lock eyes across a diner booth and have an entire conversation composed of tightening hands on coffee cups, eyebrows raised just so, set mouths, and that unbroken gaze while other characters dialogue around them. It's brilliant and beautiful, this wordless communion between the two. And what it does is make the contrived ending ring more true than it deserves to because these two have been communicating on a level above us the whole time anyway. We believe they're capable of what they pull off. Dennis Quaid is a marvel of antsy motion, hesitant confidence, and broiling devotion. He's a great actor. Part of why you know he's a great actor is because he goes up against Sharon Stone and they both win. Sharon Stone has always been a great actor but it seems as though the world at large isn't ready to give her credit for it. She's too beautiful perhaps, or too smart. Something about her makes audiences reluctant to accept the subtleties of her craft, the depths to which she will dig into a moment and wring truth from it. And watching her as Leah Tilson made me suddenly think that maybe she didn't so much pick the movie as she picked the character for her comeback. Because finally she is something other than the sexpot, the lonely beauty, the icy murderess. Finally she is part of a complex duo, a more silent half of something omnipresent onscreen, and as such she gets to use her staggering presence and tangible glances to fantastic ends.

'Cold Creek Manor' isn't about the story. It's not bad, as jaunty little thrillers go, but it's mediocre at best when judged by plot alone. The reasons to see 'Cold Creek Manor' are Stephen Dorff, Dennis Quaid, and Sharon Stone. They won't let you down. They will show you something more than the sum of the script's parts. Therefore I give 'Cold Creek Manor' three Spaceys* out of five.

Gabrielle's note: Once again the multi-talented Juliette Lewis is utterly wasted as the town whore of the cast. Would it kill Hollywood to give her more to chew on? Seriously now.

*The Spacey system was devised as a way of rating movies according to the litmus test of acting himself, Mister Kevin Spacey. What? Is my bias showing?

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