PLOT: Two clever kidnappers nab pretty little rich girl Alice Creed and lock her into the sound-proof cell they've made for her in a tiny apartment. Armed with a tight plan to exchange Alice for her a piece of her father's vast wealth, the baddies believe they can do no wrong. But, as is the case with most fool-proof kidnappings, things don't go as smoothly as had been planned.
REVIEW: I knew very little about the British crime thriller THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED when I walked into the theater last week to catch a press screening. All I really knew - aside from the actors involved - was a brief synopsis (basically what I laid out for you above) and the fact that the flick had been gathering serious accolades from around the world on the festival circuit. Since I'm always down for a good British caper, and was pretty eager to see Gemma Arteton (CLASH OF THE TITANS, PRINCE OF PERSIA) tackle a real acting role, I settled in and hoped for the best.
Did I get what I hoped for? Well, yes and no. It wasn't "the best", but then again, what ever is? However, ALICE CREED is a solid, if piece of filmmaking, with the obligatory twists and turns needed to keep things bouncing; it is, impressively, director J Blakeson's feature film debut, and the young man shows promise in the suspense genre. Additionally, it features some fine performances from its three (and only) actors - Arteton, Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston - each of whom bring genuine urgency to their roles.
The film begins very well, with an extended, nearly dialogue-free sequence detailing the preparation and execution of the kidnapping. Blakeson is good with the details: the shopping for supplies, the long stretches of physical labor, the tedious waiting, the stress - it's hard work carrying out a kidnapping. The process of caring for the hostage is just as uncomfortable - you have to feed her, to (humiliatingly) help her use the bathroom, to force her to recite the lines you need for your ransom video, to be patient with her... This first act of the film is really terrific in the way it calmly and professionally goes about business - not unlike its villains - and makes all of these elements feel just right.
Of course, as is always the case in this genre, there's a surprise or two waiting in the wings. I won't spoil any here, even though some big ones come fairly early in the flick, but soon enough the game changes and the tight thriller's cool efficiency transforms into something more melodramatic. The narrative doesn't slow down, and the tension of the scenario remains intact, but I must admit I was slightly disheartened when the movie abandoned its stone-faced seriousness and got, well, emotional, for lack of a better word.
The end is also a problem. Any movie needs a strong finish, but a movie like this really needs to supply a bang. Think THE USUAL SUSPECTS or BLOOD SIMPLE - you walk out saying "Wow, how cool was that?!" The movie was already good, but an awesome ending makes it better. ALICE CREED has a protracted whimper of an ending, which really mucks up the works. It's bad enough when the movie doesn't know when to end, but when it doesn't end so slowly, it's plenty frustrating. It's the kind of situation that makes me as a viewer wonder about the various, more compelling ways it could have finished...
That said, ALICE CREED works for the most part, and that's really thanks to its cast. The three actors have to carry the film on their shoulders, and they do so with nary a false moment. Arteton, beautiful but mostly forgettable in her recent Hollywood roles, proves that she's certainly capable of grabbing your attention, and not just due to her ample physical assets. (Yes, pervs, you get to see her in the buff.) Alice is understandably terrified throughout most of the film, and Arteton keeps the fever pitch at 11 the entire time. She's a helluva screamer, too... Marsan and Compston play the kidnappers as steely men with vulnerabilities hidden away - although not hidden enough for their liking. Marsan in particular is very strong - his "Vic" has an intimidating glare and an attitude that says he means what he says, and yet, once more about his character is revealed, the more you see him as a real person, not just an evil bastard. Compston, who looks like Edward Norton's younger brother, also tackles a character who is pretty unsympathetic on the surface but with some, shall we say, inner turmoil that threatens to screw up the whole venture. Compston is an intense young actor with promise - I can absolutely envision him getting the same kind of roles Norton regularly does.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is not a perfect film by any means, but good acting and a gripping storyline (not to mention a sensational beginning) make it a worthwhile viewing experience. Just don't go in expecting "the next big thing".