Friday, October 12, 2007

"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" -- * 1/2

Bombast is the name of the game in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," Shekhar Kapur's wretched follow-up to his 1998 Best Picture nominee "Elizabeth." It doesn't quite go all the way to the point of being enjoyably awful and laughable (there are only a handful of giggle-worthy moments), but it's unrelentingly shallow, borderline-incoherent and flat-out boring-- quite a task for a movie that doesn't ever stop throwing shit in your face.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn't care in the least about giving you any sort of history, real human drama, or even cheap thrills. It's totally and completely about the gay-baiting "wow" visual elements that Kapur hopes will distract you from the lack of anything at its core: more costume changes than you can count, elaborate sets, enormous wigs, beams of symbolic/important light. Hell, the only tension lies in what sort of flamboyant headdress Elizabeth will wear in each new scene.

To have some semblance of goings-on, the movie uses its talented actors as pawns in the most infantile ("I hope he likes me!") melodramatic soap-opera fashion, filled with sinister looks and overbearing music at every turn. Here's the history I learned from "The Golden Age:" In 1585, every Catholic was an evil potential assassin of the queen, soon before a big CGI battle filled with stock footage of ships blowing cannonballs at each other happened, while Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) was too busy having a schoolgirl crush on pirate Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). While she was jerking him around, he made his way to Lizzie's protege Bess (Abbie Cornish).

When Raleigh knocks Bess up, Liz has them banished and then straps on armor to give a rousing speech to her soldiers. All the while, two of the most ominous, sneaky motherfuckers I've ever seen in a movie (Jordi Molla and Rhys Ifans) attempt-- and fail-- to assassinate our golden lady; given all the liberties taken here, I was half convinced they were actually going to succeed in killing her. I'm leaving out about half of the madness that goes on here, but needless to say, my head was spinning and by the end of it all I was just staring at the screen with my mouth agape.

The awful, awful, awful script is filled with lines like "In another world, could you have loved me?" and "As humans, we feel too much... but we do have the chance for love." The screenplay also gives us no chance to settle in, shifting us from event to event so rapidly that it'd be disorienting if it wasn't so dispiriting. Here, the tone only veers from campy to self-important, but all with the gloss of pretty cinematography on top.

The film's one saving grace, as you probably predicted, is Blanchett, who is terrific in a ridiculously-written role. Elizabeth has so many things to do, go to, wear and has to play so many different disparate shades that it's more of an acting endurance test than a real character, and I'm still in disbelief at how well Blanchett pulls it off. Granted, we never believe her as a real human being-- the screenplay is too fucked from the get-go for that to happen-- but Blanchett's depiction of the dozen different Elizabeths we get is always mesmerizing and fiercely played, and if she gets an Oscar nomination for this mess, it'll be well-deserved.

I figured for Rush to return they'd had to have beefed up his role from the first film, but the opposite is true. While he's still torturing people for Elizabeth's benefit, he's even more in the background here, standing by her side glowering more than actually having anything to do. Owen is as dashing as ever in his period garb, and can't help but be naturally charming; Kapur even affords him an underwater swim late in the proceedings for no reason other than he looks damn good doing it. Given the crap he's asked to do and say here, it's amazing he doesn't embarrass himself, but this is most definitely a part of his filmography he'll rather have forgotten.

"Elizabeth" wasn't a great movie to begin with, but at least it made the (adjusted/fabricated) history of Elizabeth I entertaining, interesting and moderately paced, while also being a showcase for Blanchett's star-making performance. "The Golden Age" is, simply, a mess that wants to up the stakes of the original at every level, but does it at the detriment of coherence, realism, or interesting characters/situations. Someone really should tell Mr. Kapur that pretty costumes and austere floods of light can't make people forget they're watching trash.

OSCAR POTENTIAL: Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Costume Design


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