Running Time: 100 min.
Rated R for violent content, pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity.
Directed and written by: J Blakeson
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston
The central premise of J Blakeson’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed would make Alfred Hitchcock and the Lifetime Channel drool simultaneously.
Two cons, Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan), have plotted and planned the abduction of young Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton), the daughter of a wealthy bussinessman. Holed up in a seedy but hostage-prepped apartment room, the dangerous duo and their bound-and-gagged charge begin a three-way mindgame of manipulation and deceit. Due largely to the efforts of Blakeson, Creed is less sordid TV timewaster and more akin to Hitch’s output in both tone and execution.
Taking place largely in one setting with only three actors and an ever-growing tangle of surprises and intricacies, Alice Creed owes something to mondern genre works like Bound or The Usual Suspects. Purely in terms of nail-biting efficiency, Blakeson’s entry is actually stronger than most of the films from which it draws inspiration. It doesnt just culminate in a twist, but is built almost completely from them, each connected to the other by virtue of terrific performances and expertly staged scenes.
Let’s talk about those performances. So slight and tricky is the hard-boiled narrative that without them there would likely be no movie. When the story starts turning in on itself like an Ouroboros, devouring the audience’s understanding of events, theres nothing left to cling to but Danny, Vic, Alice and the actors portraying them.
Ahh, Gemma Arterton, she of the haunting eyes, unnaturally pale skin, and lilting accent. I would be lying if I didnt cop to the fact I find her an appealing film presence mostly because of her looks and poise. Unfortunately, she has recently spent her time making high-priced matinee junk like Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia.
Although Arterton is manhandled, tied-up and threatened in this film, the Hollywood blockbusters are the ones that have used and abused her beauty. Here, even through a ball gag, she generates a fierce and confident presence. Watching Alice mentally navigate her situation, looking for fissures in her captor’s resolve, it is impossible to deny Arterton’s talent. She makes her character a real person, which only accentuates her brutal abduction and emphasizes her role in the later theatrics.
Eddie Marsan, as Vic, the older and more stoic of the two kidnappers, is playing the role just as it would have been had this been filmed in the 1940’s with Edward G. Robinson. Marsan is always a solid actor, often relegated to the sidelines in films as disparate as Hancock, Sherlock Holmes and last year’s Heartless, where he gave growling life to the enigmatic demon known only as the ‘Weapon’s Man’.
In Creed, Marasan is putting his own gnarly visage– it could have been carved from granite on the side of an old cathedral–to the good use of the plot. From early on, Vic is menacing, but he’s also not the only one scheming; there’s more too under the bruiser’s facade. This is where Marsan’s ability to capture volatile and passionate emotion comes in. He shares some intense scenes with Arterton, but does all of his best work with Martin Compston, who holds his own as the jittery, easily-spooked Danny. Compston has the tricky job of going back and forth between Marsan and Arterton and trying to dramatically personify the various secrets and revelations that come cruising through the second half. He does it well enough that most won’t know or care that they have been had until its far too late.
Despite having previously worked as writer on the wretched The Descent 2, J Blakeson establishes himself as a capable and canny helmer, ready to carve his film down to the bone if it means streamlining it so that audiences make it through to the end, attention intact. The first eight minutes are some of the best we have seen all summer, as we watch Vic and Danny go about the wordless task of preparing the room, the duct tape and their method of abduction. Whenyou get down to it, this is really Blakeson’s secret strategy for the whole film; giving the audience plenty of space to observe action and reaction, without commenting on it until after assumptions have been made.
Everything from the lighting to the carefully composed shots (as painstakingly designed as the padded walls Vic puts up) establish the film early on as less sinister than it initially seems. And yet, Blakeson is not daunted by trading up darkness for intensity. The Disapperance of Alice Creed has all the depth and sophistication of a story crammed between the pages of old pulp magazines. Lucky for us, it also has the pulp’s same sense of timing and take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to entertaining an audience.