Self-indulgence, they say, is the privilege of critics. It is, after all, our job to dissect, analyze, and experience art in all its multifaceted glory. Then judge it like we actually did something. So, like Hollywood giving awards to movies about movies, I dove at my chance to critique a movie about a critic, The Critic, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
The Critic is a tour de force that delves deep into the societal constructs of 1930s London, juxtaposing it strikingly with our contemporary societal upheavals. The film focuses on Jimmy Erskine, a titan amongst theatre critics, whose sharp pen can craft stars just as quickly as it can obliterate them. It’s a captivating story of blackmail, ambition, and the dangerous trysts one forms when cornered by desperation.
A Relatable Period Drama
Director Anand Tucker’s touch in The Critic is unmistakably contemporary. Though set in the 1930s, Tucker ensures that the period does not alienate the viewer but instead acts as a sultry backdrop to a tale of intrigue. His description of aiming for a look that’s “alive, dirty, real” as opposed to the over-polished veneers often associated with period dramas, rings absolutely true as the film unfolds. The beautifully stark juxtaposition of London’s underbelly, the shadowed enclaves of Soho, and the luminous environs of country houses serves as the perfect canvas for a story teeming with complex emotions.
On a personal note, The Critic doesn’t fall into one of Hollywood’s most common tropes which usually causes me to write off most period pieces. The trope is doing a period piece and acting like people of color don’t exist. The film in fact goes in the opposite direction and fully displays the era’s cultural climate. A climate that is constantly present and plays a notable role in the events. Tucker’s embrace of the times for all of its luster and grit drives the realism and also helps engulf the audience into the torrid events of the film.
Brilliantly Crafted Characters
Writer of The Critic, Patrick Marber, known for his penchants to breathe life into morally ambiguous characters, has yet again delivered an intricate and multilayered script. Taking inspiration from Anthony Quinn’s novel, Marber places Jimmy Erskine at the epicenter of a web of intricate relationships and motivations. Erskine’s quest for acceptance in a society that inherently abhors his very being makes for a compelling watch. Coupled with the tumultuous and unconventional relationships, the narrative intricately intertwines personal desires with societal expectations.
Coupled with the brilliant writing are immaculate performances from the entire cast. Ian McKellen leads the film, joyously shining the exuberance Erskine’s profession affords him and also menacingly obfuscates the film with his odious plans. McKellen, despite his horrendous actions, still maintains a human side, audiences will understand, and maybe even forgive. Gemma Arterton is astounding as Nina Land. She fully embodies the vulnerabilities willing to sacrifice everything for her craft and gets the opportunity to embody the highs and lows of it.
Personally, Mark Strong has my favorite moment in the film. With a single look, his character’s fate is set. In a single instant, it is obvious what he has decided. It is devastating, but a brilliant showcase of Strong’s incredible acting.
Reflective and Resonant
I mentioned earlier how The Critic bucks a usual Hollywood trope, and how it helps drive the realism of the film. It also highlights the thematic undercurrents that make the film current. With undertones addressing sexuality, class, and ambition, The Critic holds a mirror to present-day challenges. Its relevance is sharp, painting a picture of a society at the cusp of monumental changes, riddled with intolerance and societal dissonance.
In essence, The Critic is a masterful amalgamation of historical context, layered characters, and modern societal discourse. As a critic, to delve into a narrative that shines a spotlight on my profession, albeit in a dramatically heightened manner, was nothing short of a guilty pleasure. This film doesn’t just reflect on the past; it prompts introspection for the present. And as the credits rolled, I was left pondering on the intertwining paths of love, ambition, and survival, all witnessed through the sharp eyes of a critic.
This Critic’s The Critic Critique
While I have been as pretentious as I possibly could because I’m reviewing a movie about a person who reviews plays, a chronological equivalent, at a renowned festival for independent film, I think this movie will appeal to a general audience. The film will elate all connoisseurs of scandalous relationships, blackmail, and torrid proclivities. Or just fans of Ian McKellen. The Critic is a thought-provoking drama that will run audiences through a full gambit of emotions and leave them pondering on life, art, and what they would be willing to do to attain their dream. And also what they are willing to do to keep it.
For being a decadent indulgence of a guilty pleasure, and just being a tantalizingly juicy drama, I give The Critic a 8/10.
About The Critic
Directed By: Anand Tucker
Written by: Patrick Marber
Executive Producers: David Gilbery, Naomi George, Mark Gordon, Anand Tucker, Harry White, Tom Butterfield
Producers: Jolyon Symonds, Bill Kenwright
Production: Fearless Minds Limited, BKS Limited, Seven Stories Limited, Mark Gordon Pictures
Cast: Ian McKellen, Gemma Arterton, Mark Strong, Romola Garai, Ben Barnes, Alfred Enoch
A feared theatre critic’s determination to keep both his job and reputation leads to his entanglement in a web of blackmail, deceit and murder.
Are you excited to watch The Critic? What are you most excited to uncover in this dramatic exploration of 1930s London? How do you think the film will juxtapose historical narratives with modern societal issues? Share your anticipations and thoughts on social media.
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