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The Architect
cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Viola Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Hayden Panettiere, and Sebastian Stan

writer and director: Matt Tauber

82 minutes (R) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Magnolia NTSC DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Tom Johnstone
The Architect is an example of why it is always a good idea to steer clear of dramas described by 'w' words such as 'worthy' or 'well-meaning', although it does boast fine central performances from Anthony LaPaglia, Viola Davis and Isabella Rossellini, and the characterisation in general compensates for the moralising tendencies of this tale of two families - a white, middle class one presided over by architect LaPaglia, and a poor, black one residing in the grotty, decaying housing project he designed. Tonya (Davis) turns up at one of his lectures demanding the immediate demolition of this collection of apartment tower blocks. But the architect has got enough problems with his own dysfunctional family, and so is far from sympathetic. Rossellini is particularly disquieting as his wife, who suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving lemons, when she isn't smashing up plant pots. Tonya's family life isn't exactly normal either. One child is dead, and the other has been all but adopted by the middle class black parents of her boyfriend.

Rather heavy-handedly, the breakdown of the two families mirrors the urban decay created by the ironically named Eden housing project. This is most obvious in the scenes involving the architect's teenage son, who snubs his father's attempts to apprentice him, and instead takes to wandering the mean streets of Eden picking up rough trade, albeit inadvertently. The film is effective in showing the awkwardness and mutual incomprehension in the encounters between the complacent architect and his dogged, poker-faced adversary Tonya, especially in the scene when she pays a visit to his luxurious house to discuss Eden's design faults. We cannot help but see the bitter irony of him showing off the design features of his own home to her, a house that like the housing project she inhabits, is one of his own design.

There are other notable and memorable scenes in The Architect, such as the risky exploits of his young teenage daughter as she tries to come to terms with her own awakening need to feel desired, but they don't seem to amount to much, so that the whole ends up feeling like less than the some of its parts. On the one hand, the struggles and grinding desperation of the black characters just leave you feeling unmoved by the self-absorbed obsessions of the architect's family. You think, 'why should I care if his teenage daughter has a poor body image?' However, on the plus side, the flat, neutral feel avoids the overblown mawkishness you often get with Hollywood dramas, but at the cost of a curiously unmemorable experience. The Architect does not leave as strong an impression as the trailer at the beginning of the DVD for a wholly unrelated documentary about youth camps run by Christian fundamentalists in America.

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