Old 09-07-2009, 04:19 PM
Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces

Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces, 2009)

Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz team up again, taking a more serious route compared to 'Volver.' 'Broken Embraces' plays out like a classic thriller, but it feels like Almodovar is on neutral throughout the entire movie. The cast and director are talented enough to keep things afloat but no one tries to breathe life into the conventional story.

After going blind, writer/director Mateo Blanco declared his former self dead and took on the pseudonym Harry Caine. His longtime friend and production manager Judit takes care of Harry along with her younger son Diego. Diego notices that Judit and Harry have been acting strangely ever since they learned that Ernesto Martel, a wealthy businessman, died recently. Diego pressures Harry to explain why he's so bothered by Martel's death and Harry eventually tells the story about his involvement with Martel and his mistress while shooting his last film.

Everything in here is what you would expect from a Pedro Almodovar movie. The stylish look, the strong female characters, the time jumping narrative that's been in his more recent movies are all here and pulled off nicely. The timeline jumps in the beginning keeps the pace going but it's soon ditched and the flashbacks dominate once Harry comes clean. Things seemed to slow down once the plot stayed linear but the overall mystery keeps things interesting.

Penelope Cruz and the cast do a good job but no one stands out too much. Everyone seems to compliment each other nicely but there's a big feeling of indifference towards all the characters. The one possible exception would be Blanca Portillo who does a great job showing the emotional turmoil Judit goes through with Harry. The scene where she's finally able to explain her feelings to Harry is one of the few effective parts in the film.

As the story goes on and the truth begins to come out the problems with 'Embraces' really start to show. It's easy to guess what will happen next when it's suggested repeatedly through everyone's actions. The 'revelations' end up having little to no impact because everyone else is several steps ahead. The 'by the numbers' approach makes the ending anticlimactic but there's a nice homage to Almodovar's older movies that makes it satisfying.

Pedro Almodovar is a good director but it's obvious that he can do better with 'Embraces.' If you compare this to 'Volver' it'll feel like him and Cruz are in some sort of lull. The main mystery keeps the intrigue going and the pacing is done well but the disappointing finale and sense that everyone's sleepwalking holds it back. Not a good starting point for people who want to try out Almodovar's movies but his fans will most likely be satisfied from it.

Rating: **1/2 (out of 4)
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