Sunday, June 17, 2012

Movie Review: Danny Boyle's Frankenstein

Danny Boyle's Frankenstein (2011)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller

I reviewed this film for Next Projection.

Push aside all thoughts of Boris Karloff, Robert DeNiro or even Peter Boyle. Last year, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle created a sharp, mostly faithful retelling of the classic novel for London’s National Theatre that was eventually filmed and screened for audiences around the world.

Working with a script from Nick Dear, Boyle returns to his stage roots with his take on Mary Shelley’s 1818 Gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein. In a pre-show behind-the-scenes look at the dress rehearsals, Boyle reveals that he took on this ambitious production in an attempt to tell the story almost solely from the Creature’s point of view – a risky venture considering the first half of the play has very little dialogue as the Creature grunts and moans his way to some semblance of humanity.

As a result, we see smaller, poignant moments that build on the Creature’s characterization, such as his obvious delight at the sight of the sunrise or how the thought of the moon makes him feel solitary. While cutting out the first portion of Shelley’s novel may be jarring to some of her fans, Boyle and Dear manage to narrow the focus and create a tighter narrative structure that rearranges certain pivotal events while still remaining loyal to the original text.

Right from the stunning opening scene, where a naked Creature emerges from the womb-like contraption in which he was created, Boyle’s Frankenstein holds our attention for more than 10 minutes as we lay witness to the Creature’s first fumbling steps. Without the additional narrative exposition of how he came to be, we are thrust right into the Creature’s story the very same way he is suddenly thrust into life.

The sparse sets leaves more room for the actors to breath and the very presence of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller’s performances fill the stage (and screen).

Miller perfectly fills the shoes of the arrogant Victor Frankenstein, his assured answers eventually giving way to his haunted inner torment and indecision over whether or not he could muster the courage to destroy his own creation. Just when you may start to feel a twinge of sympathy, he brushes away any thought of the sort with his cold conceit. He’s a tragically flawed figure who hastily decided to play God, only to be humbled by the fact that his own creation had to teach him about what it means to love.
Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Frankenstein
In the more difficult role of the two, Benedict Cumberbatch is simply astonishing – completely inhabiting the character of the Creature. It’s a fearless performance. As Cumberbatch revealed in the pre-show behind-the-scenes interview, he studied the movements of accident victims who were learning to walk again. As a result, you feel the Creature’s frustration as he learns to walk for the first time, along with his desperation to communicate with words and his all-encompassing desire to experience love. Both Cumberbatch’s performance and Dear’s script make the Creature more than just a pile of contorting limbs – he’s a full-blown intellectual, a man who can recite Milton’s Paradise Lost by heart and muses over what it really means to love. It is mankind that shows him evil and teaches him about hate and the death of one’s soul, making the scenes where the Creature euphorically tastes his first meal and feels his first rainfall all the more bittersweet.

Cumberbatch and Miller play well off one another and their shared scenes are some of the play’s highlights. Both men recently won Best Actor at the Olivier Awards, handed out by the Society of London Theatre.

The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t fare as well in underwritten roles, with the exception of Karl Johnson (TVs Rome) in the role of the blind cottager that kindly takes the Creature in and provides him with an education.

In the final scene, as the Creature forces Frankenstein into a game of cat and mouse across the North Pole, both of their utter desolation is keenly felt – Frankenstein’s for his inability to overcome his pride and destroy his creation and the Creature’s for his failure to find someone to love him.

The two are destined to share their final days together as Boyle’s play hauntingly comes to a close with the image of their worn frames wandering away through the cold mists.

It's an extraordinary piece of theatre, led by two spectacular lead performances, that makes Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein an absolute must-see.

Note: Cumberbatch and Miller alternated roles throughout the London run. Both options are available to view on this international cinema tour.


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