Eye of the Beholder
Eye of the Beholder (101 minutes) 1999/Rated R – starring Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd, Patrick Bergin, k.d. lang, Jason Priestley, and Genevieve Bujold. Written and Directed by Stephen Elliott. Released through Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video.
This film was thrashed by every critic in the country when it came out in theaters. So let me state up front, it wasn’t that bad. It had some snappy visual transitions between scenes, such as the use of little snow-domes to show the next locale our protagonists would wind up in. There was some actual thought put behind sound design, with whisps of smoke having the aural characteristic of ghostly gasps, and street ambience fading completely to footsteps as McGregor pursues Ashley Judd in Chicago. Some nice scenery was shot in San Francisco, Death Valley, and Pennsylvania. Let’s see, oh yeah, and Chrissie Hynde’s song over the end credits was lush and evocative. That’s all I can think of. Now here’s what’s wrong.
The whole film is a dysfunctional mess. There’s nothing wrong with having your two main characters as screwed-up individuals who you’re supposed to follow for an hour and a half. “Bonnie and Clyde” was great entertainment. “Badlands” brought a kind of pastoral feel to the isolated delinquency of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. But when you really don’t ‘buy’ into dysfunction of the characters, such as is the case in this movie, the psychological angle the filmmakers so dearly want you to identify with becomes rather moot.
Ashley Judd plays a woman of many identities, whose primary goal in life is to meet men with money, kill them, take some bucks or jewels, and move on to the next location. Because she lost her Daddy when she was younger and hooked up with quack counselor Genevieve Bujold, who taught her how to ‘survive’ against all odds, we’re supposed to empathize with her homicidal La Femme Nikita approach to getting ahead. Ewan McGregor’s character is an even greater head-scratcher. He plays a kind of British spy for a consulate (the espionage ‘headquarters’ is so laughably low-key, I thought the scene was cutting to the reservation desk at the Alexandria Hilton), whose trail tailing a rich kid scamming a trust fund leads him to cross paths with the lethal Ms. Judd. While listening and eyeballing Judd through high-tech gadgetry, he’s suffering from delusions of his little long-lost daughter, who crops up beside him to have a nice chat and encourage him to keep following the psycho woman.
Yes, the two main characters both lead very ‘insulated’ lives, which we’re to assume drives Ashley to kill rich guys and eventually, leads McGregor to rescue her from pursuing cops and feds. But neither is someone we particularly care for. Ashley’s stabbing and drowning fellows who don’t really deserve being dispatched, and McGregor’s endangerment of bystanders when he fires on police, just don’t add up to empathy for this guy who’s protecting a gal who should have a permanent room at Bellevue Hospital. By the time the ending arrives (rather hastily I might add), we have learned virtually nothing about their humanity; their effect on other’s lives, no commentary on society’s ills that might have contributed to who they are, or any attempt to alter their destructive ways. The two leave as the ciphers they were presented as when the first frame flickered.
k.d. lang is the one thespian who, along with the two leads, hangs around throughout the course of the picture. She told JAM Showbiz regarding her part in this movie, “I would never want to think I was taking roles away from actors because of my celebrity.” No need to worry, k.d. Donning a headset and talking to a computer screen for the entire movie doesn’t exactly foster envy in more accomplished actors clamoring to land your role. Ms. lang comes across a bit stilted, having no one to share a scene with, and therefore, her line delivery is just that, delivering her lines. There was no nuance or feeling to them nor any additional bit of character development she brought to the part. Sadly, it’s very evident that her role, as well as those scenes involving the ridiculous spy headquarters, were totally unnecessary in propelling what little plot this film had.
© 2000 Ned Truslow