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How to destroy your career in one simple movie
on 15 November 2005
NB - Once again Amazon have thoughtlessly and unhelpfully contrived to combine the reviews for two different fims on the same page. This review refers to the US remake.
George Sluizer's original Dutch-French version of The Vanishing (aka The Man Who Wanted to Know) offers one of European cinema's most quietly disturbingly anonymous and everyday sociopaths, feeling his way one step at a time towards murder. If you've seen that version, you probably still can't get the final revelation out of your head, but the film had plenty more to offer than that, playing with chronology, subverting the usual cliches of its 'Lady Vanishes' plot (the hero wants to know what happened to his missing lover far more than he wants her to be alive) and throwing in some excellent characterization. I can only assume that for this 1993 US remake Sluizer was so determined that no-one else was going to get the chance to ruin his film when he was perfectly capable of doing it himself, but few people could have anticipated how comprehensively he trashes his own work. His career never recovered.
Chief culprit is an astonishing performance by Jeff Bridges that has been overthought through in every detail to a truly disastrous level. A friend who produced one of his earliest movies noted that Bridges was a great instinctive actor as long as you stopped him thinking about what he was doing, and this film is the proof of the pudding. Every movement is overly mechanical in its precision, making him look like a rusty clockwork toy, while his voice is a bizarre mixture of Tootsie, Latka Gravas from Taxi and a Dalek who have all been taking elocution lessons from Dok-tah E-ville. No banality of evil here, just a looney walking around with an invisible sign over his head saying "Please. Let. Me. Kill. You. Thank you. For your. Consideration.'
But the blame really needs to be shared out here. None of the performances are good: often, they don't even look good - Keifer Sutherland looks more like a baby hamster than a distraught man at his wits end in the hurried scenes at the gas station, Nancy Travis flounders badly and Sandra Bullock makes no impression at all as the object of his obsession. Not that they're given any help by either director or writer Todd Graff. The script is particularly weak. The chronology has been altered to put the focus firmly on Bridges at the expense of the couple at the opening of the film. Worse is the rush the film is in, draining the life and character from each scene in its race to get to the next. Rather than the high/low mood shifts in the couple's relationship or the apparently casual but careful establishing of the feel of the location, we just get a couple of arguments that give you the impression that he's probably better off without her. As for the new and improved happy ending - standard woman chased by nutter in the woods jeopardy stuff complete with lame `let's end on a joke like a TV cop show' moment - best not go there... which is advice that holds for this entire trainwreck of a movie. Even a shockingly bland and uninspired Jerry Goldsmith score can't do anything for this one.
NB: Please note that due to a glitch on Amazon many of the reviews here are for the superior Dutch version - which definitely IS worth seeing.