-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
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
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
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
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.