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To Have And To Hold
cast: Tchéky Karyo, Rachel Griffiths, Steve Jacobs, Anni Fisterer, and David Field

director: John Hillcoat

95 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
To Have And To Hold is the film that John Hillcoat made in between Ghosts Of The Civil Dead and The Proposition and, if it has failed to make the noise the outlying films did then, it can be easily put down to the middle film's general weakness. I had a phrase to describe the pre-Hays Code films Kongo and Tarzan And His Mate, a couple of splendid films that I thought were best summed up as 'erotic, exotic, jungle gothics'. To Have And To Hold is more like insipid, necrotic, jungle pathetic. Hillcoat agrees that the film is rotten on every level and one can hope that he has made a study of his failure to ensure that it is never repeated. Tchéky Karyo is Jack, returning to the city after years in the jungles of Papua New Guinea to touch the world again briefly as he stocks up. It allows him the opportunity to pick up some action movies on video, which he can later pirate and redistribute to the jungle communities. Before he can return, it is love at first sight at first sight for him, the woman of his dreams a prominent authoress, Kate, played by Rachel Griffiths. She finds irresistible the double opportunity of this coarse man and his unpredictable environment; his jungle might also provide her with the backdrop for a new fiction. It would be win piled upon win for Kate. Jack's last wife Rose (Anni Finisterer) died five years before, though the specifics of her demise are for unravelling.

Local bar owner Sal (Steve Jacobs) whiffs of trouble and, while Jack is away, he turns up on the hut doorstep with his occasional sidekick Steve (David Field). Jack is avoiding Sal, and Sal is bored enough to want to wind Jack up, and with the new arrival he provides Jack with a new videotape of himself and Rose at the bar. Both are drunk and she is wearing a red dress (red dresses are everywhere this month - see my L'Amore molesto review) that she had refused to wear for Jack. Local fella Luther (Robert Kunsa), formerly a close associate of Jack and Rose, has been in prison, but the loss of an eye to an inmate is enough to persuade him to break out and the police continue to scour the locale for the escapee.

He turns up in the vicinity of the house and idles in and out when he so pleases. Jack warns Kate away from him, that he is a Raskal and like all Raskals he is a potential rapist. Five years dead, does not put a stop to Jack's jealousies and the private playing of tapes of Rose drives him insane. Kate is remoulded and imagined as the dead Rose. The remote lifestyle means there are few she can turn to for assistance and in a society where women are a subclass when she finds the opportunity to plead with the police to rescue her their response is that she should be kept under control by the husband. They stand about disinterestedly as he punches her to the ground and kicks her. Kate realises that she must use the impersonated wife to bring things to a head, fictionally verifying for Jack everything that he had suspected those five long years with fatal consequences. It is the right night for murder, as the Raskals rampage that night and another secret is immediately buried in the fires and deaths that ensue.

To Have And To Hold is an unimportantly grim affair and Hillcoat is almost correct. It is poor on most levels but not quite all. Karyo is fresh from his turn as the prophet in the entertaining Nostradamus, and yet, to cruddy his name further in Dobermann, is really struggling here. There is talk currently of a new in status for the mumblecore indie and his star could shine again if that is the case. Rachel Griffiths is here found in an early role and would go on from here to be commonly cast for a natural intensity she brings to roles. I think that intensity is faux, simple physiognomy and this film in truth reveals that acting is a job and she will not go that extra mile that other actresses will. Then again, the film was hardly worthy of anyone's fullest efforts or sacrifices.

The script is at times embarrassing: "There's nothing else to say." ... "Then don't say anything else!" It's hardly Casablanca and Hillcoat is no Joseph Conrad, and Conrad is the author to which this dismal affair most likely aspires. Hillcoat seems more comfortable with outsider communities and on his brief visit to civilisation in To Have And To Hold it is flagged up just how out of touch he can be. His real world is phonier than Californian soap opera. It is romanticised and unnatural. Hillcoat missed out making a contemporaneously awful 1980s movie in the actual 1980s so he made one in the 1990s instead. When he purchases the videotapes the shop assistant checks them out as "A Van Damme, two Bruce Willis, a Chow Yun-fat, three Bruce Lee and a Jimmy Cliff." No one ticks away films like that. It is, initially, a shorthand red herring to confuse us as to Jack's nature. He is not interested in the films, he simply knows they are populist and violent and will serve as additional income in his piracy scam. They are important because we later learn that the Raskals are bored natives who have been influenced into their path of violence as a result of the films that Jack has been peddling them over the years.

Over dinner, Karyo's Jack has to talk romantically into the camera as if one is not put off enough already by the film. In her make-up Rachel Griffiths often looks like an Aunt Sally. The music is cloying. The image quality is fair, the wait for a release draining it of some of its colour. The images from the personal past of Jack, Rose, Sal and Luther that is caught on camera are too convenient in capturing important intimate and terrible episodes. It is a visual and aural fudge, uncomfortable and not in a transgressive way. An amazing shot of a storm brewing in swirling clouds is revealed to be cribbed footage by Simon Kerwin Carroll while other better work by other artistes is thrown in to flag up the flailing movie. William Latham's superb abstract fractal Biogenesis is incorporated briefly. Footage from Brian Trenchard-Smith's Turkey Shoot has one yearn for something more honestly tacky, exploitative and adventuresome. With no character to root for, the film simply dies on the viewer.
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