Wicker Park Review
The late Stanley Kubrick was a big fan of the BBC soap EastEnders and once even considered anonymously directing an episode. After seeing Wicker Park, I think I can now imagine what a Kubrick-directed EastEnders might look like. This is the fourth movie from British director Paul McGuigan, who made the acclaimed Gangster No 1 and a good medieval mystery thriller just released on DVD called The Reckoning. He's a fine director and this is a terrific-looking film which puts you under its spell for at least the first half of its two hour running time. Then the secret on which the whole story hinges is revealed and it turns out to be as banal as any soap opera revelation and completely inadequate within the context of a major feature film. Seldom does a movie so strongly inspire the reaction "Is that it?" Maybe the problem isn't even the secret but the way it's handled. Wicker Park is a remake of L'Appartement, a French film from 1996. I haven't seen it but judging by the praise it's received, it must have made much more out of the same plot than this version does.
Matthew (Josh Hartnett) is a photographer working for a Chicago bank. On the eve of an important business trip to Shanghai, he's at a restaurant with his fiancée Rebecca (Jessica Paré) and his best friend Luke (Matthew Lillard) when he catches a brief glimpse of a woman he thinks he recognises. She's the spitting image of Lisa (Diane Kruger), the dancer he fell madly in love with two years before and who abruptly left the country without a word and broke his heart. Matthew feels like his life has just been rewound two years. All he can think about is Lisa. He postpones his flight to China and sets out to track her down, first to a hotel room and then to her apartment. When he eventually breaks in and confronts the woman he finds there, she's not his ex-lover but a nurse, also coincidentally called Lisa (Rose Byrne).
Since this is supposed to be an intense tale of sexual obsession, it doesn't help that the two leads, Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger (Helen in Troy) are both too lightweight to convey the fierce emotions of their characters. It's vital that we believe these two were once head over heels in love with each other and that never comes across. Nor does the film even explain why Kruger's character was attracted to a painfully shy dork with stalker tendencies. Nor is Hartnett, the sex symbol, remotely convincing as a shy dork. Much better is Rose Byrne, an up-and-coming Australian actress who was also in Troy and who gives a very impressive performance that belongs in a more deserving movie. Matthew Lillard does seem a little out of place at first, playing his usual comic-relief best friend role but as the film dragged on, I warmed to him. In a movie where everyone else is obsessed and miserable, it's a blessed relief to find one character who has a sense of humour and a life.