The first scene shows a 1950s American housewife doing chores --- pinning up laundry in the back yard, cleaning, cooking, etc. --- and then going upstairs to her bedroom. On the bed is a neatly folded pile of men's clothing. She pauses for a moment, takes off her wig, and you realize that you've been watching Cillian Murphy dressed as a woman for the past couple of minutes. Well, I figured it out a little ahead of time, but if you weren't familiar with Murphy, that scene would have been quite a shock. Before I go on, I have to point out that this is not exactly a movie about cross-dressing. I mention that because, more often than not, cross-dressing in movies and television is used for cheap laughs.
Buffalo Bill in this movie and using cross-dressing in a horror film context. This is something different.
Every morning, John (Cillian Murphy) wakes up and dresses himself up as Emma. Emma takes care of John, doing the housework, cooking, and leaving him notes and instructions on what to do while she's "sleeping." When it is time, Emma goes upstairs, changes into John's clothes, and he seems delighted to find breakfast with a good luck note by his plate. Obviously, John has some sort of dissociative identity disorder, because the two personalities seem oblivious to each other. John goes about his day as a painfully shy and socially awkward bank worker, comes home, and repeats the routine again in the morning. No one knows about Emma.
One morning, while putting up the laundry to dry, Emma is knocked unconscious when a train car is derailed and tears through the back yard. The accident brings neighbors running, and they find a loose caboose in the yard with a woman that no one in the small town has ever met before. Emma excuses herself as quickly as she can, goes inside and changes into John, but the damage is done. The townsfolk want to see and speak with the woman who narrowly avoided a tragic death; Fanny (Susan Sarandon) wants to get Emma involved in the local women's shelter; the incumbent mayor (Keith Carradine) wants to hold a rally in their back yard and have pictures taken with both John and his lovely wife, Emma; Maggie (Ellen Page), a struggling young mother, is forced to ask John for financial aid, but is willing to accept Emma's care and advice. From the moment that train jumps the rails, John's carefully designed insular life begins to unravel.
This is Cillian Murphy's movie from start to finish. The supporting actors are good; there really isn't a bad performance in the bunch. Susan Sarandon is fine as a do-gooding socialite, Ellen Page showed some depth in a tough role, and even the typically mediocre Bill Pullman was fine. I was pleasantly surprised by Josh Lucas' understated performance as the closest thing John has to a friend, too. The supporting cast is just window dressing on this movie, though. This is all about Murphy's performance. I was very impressed with the way he channeled two distinct characters; changing his voice and appearance are no-brainers, but Murphy was able to give each character its own physicality, and that is where his performance impresses the most. He's certainly not a pretty woman, but I thought he was pretty convincing, and that is a huge step toward making this film work.
|Still prettier than Fergie.|
I was less impressed with Lander's story. By showing that John and Emma were different personalities from the same mind within the first few minutes of the film, it eliminated the main surprise of this story. From that point forward, the movie focuses on the battle between the personas to see which will emerge victorious; this is a very gradual process, but the slow pace might have worked if there was an appropriate climax. There isn't. Sure, we see how far the personalities are willing to go to defeat the other into submission, but it is nowhere near as disturbing as the movie is building it up to be.
This had a lot of promising elements that could have come together to make a rather disturbing psychological drama/horror flick. Brian Reitzell's score did a great job conveying the conflict within John's body and was occasionally very creepy. The performances were solid all around, with Cillian Murphy giving a particularly impressive performance. Unfortunately, something is missing. Maybe it is the lack of a satisfying conclusion. Maybe it's the fact that none of these characters are particularly interesting (aside from a case of multiple personalities), or maybe it's because none of the townspeople immediately realize that Emma is a dude. Everything in this movie is so serious, so sad, so...drab. There is no joy in this film to balance that out, and the lack of a chilling or horrifying conclusion multiplies that drab feeling. It's not a bad idea, and I feel bad that Murphy wasted a lot of good work here, but the movie doesn't live up to the sum of its parts.
I don't care if a drifter gets killed in this movie. Drifters are just fodder for serial killers in movies, and you knew from the moment he appeared on screen that something bad would happen to him. That's what he gets for talking to strangers.