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March 2010

Rage

cast: Simon Abkarian, Riz Ahmed, Lily Cole, Judi Dench, Jude Law, and Dianne Wiest

director: Sally Potter

95 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 16:9
Spirit DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Max Cairnduff

Rage

Rage is a hard film to classify (sometimes a very good sign). The basic idea is that a fashion designer named Merlin (played by the excellent Simon Abkarian) is about to launch his new collection, and behind-the-scenes a schoolboy has been given access to the people putting the show together: models, Merlin himself, PR people, investors, critics, interns and so on. The boy shoots interviews with each of them on his mobile phone against a monotone colour backdrop, which changes interviewee to interviewee, and the film we see is therefore in theory the results of that boy's work.

That means that the entire film consists of individual pieces to camera, with characters being interviewed several times apiece but with only one of them being on screen at any given time and with no background of any kind other than a blank colour screen. Everything dramatic that happens, happens elsewhere; all we see are the reactions and comments. Equally, although characters respond to what the boy says, we don't hear his voice, so the only voice heard (other than background noise) is that of the character currently on-screen.

With that setup, the film is heavily dependent on its cast, and it's fortunate then how good that cast is. As well as those mentioned above, there's Eddie Izzard, Steve Buscemi, John Leguizamo, and many others. They're all talented people, though sadly they're not all challenged by the material to equal degrees.

What quickly becomes apparent, as the film progresses, is that the fashion launch is not a happy one. On the second day a model dies off-screen in a bizarre accident involving a motorcycle and an overlong scarf, and soon after that more deaths occur and a murder investigation is launched. The police start to interview everyone and the investors get nervous...

There's also a, possibly connected, storyline involving a demonstration outside the fashion house where sacked workers are protesting against their treatment. All together, the schoolboy has a potentially very dramatic story.

But, and here's the thing, I gave it a six out of 10, so it's not that dramatic. What goes wrong? Well, partly the premise just isn't credible. The film is very well shot on what quite evidently isn't a mobile phone. The background screen colours are picked to highlight aspects of the stars' makeup or clothes in a manner I just don't believe a schoolboy would manage, and the boy continues to have access even after they find out he's posting the interviews online and after people have started dying. The premise, basically, is nonsense and you just have to accept that.

The other problem is a degree of self indulgence. Jude Law vamps it up hugely as a model named Minx, which is fun but it's not exactly pushing him as an actor. Eddie Izzard is on good form as a rather dangerous investor, but it's a sort of lugubrious villain type I've seen him play a few times now. Worse, the normally excellent David Oyelowo plays a Shakespeare-quoting police detective called Homer, Oyelowo's fluent with the dialogue, unsurprisingly given he's ex-RSC, but again it's just playing to an actor's comfort zone.

Plot-wise and character-wise, the film has few surprises. Models can be bitchy, though sometimes they are innocent and preyed on, photographers can be callous, and critics brutal, media people can care more about image than a shocking reality, and designers are egotistical but insecure, and so on.

Where Rage is good, it's good because the actors are. Simon Akbarian brings real humanity to Merlin, not necessarily an easy task given it's not the most interestingly written role I've seen. Riz Ahmed is always good value, and it's a pleasure to watch him playing something other than a terrorist for a change. Judi Dench and Dianne Wiest are as accomplished as you'd expect of two such talented actresses. It can be a pleasure just to watch these performers work with such intimate material, just them and the camera.

Great actors though doesn't wholly make up for the fact the parts they're given don't stretch them, or that it's all a bit unlikely. When they discover the mobile phone images are being uploaded onto the internet the fashion crew are shocked and surprised, but who today doesn't know how easy that is? Without much by way of plot, without anything by way of visuals beyond the cast and the backdrops, it just gets a little hard to care about it all. I enjoyed it, it's hard not to enjoy a cast of this calibre at all, but I had to interrupt it halfway through unexpectedly and coming back to it about three hours later I found the break hadn't damaged the film any. That it's hard to classify may be a good sign, that you can go and do something else for several hours without it making a difference, that's not such a good sign.

Rage would be an excellent film to watch on an iPhone or similar device. It's interruptible, doesn't depend on scenery or scale, and would lose very little in translation to a small screen. In many ways, it might be better to watch that way than in a more conventional manner. Generally though, whether this is one worth picking up depends on how much you enjoy watching pure acting, if you do there's much here that's rewarding, if you don't it'll be a long 95 minutes.

DVD extras: deleted scenes, a trailer, and a cast interview.



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