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A woman has to deal with feelings of grief and guilt after her husband and son die in a terrorist attack. A young London mother (Michelle Williams) waves her husband and son goodbye as they head off to see a local football match. As soon as they're gone, she entertains local news reporter Jasper Black (Ewan MacGregor), with whom she's been having an affair. As the two begin making love, a news flash on the television informs them that a suicide bomber has attacked the stadium which her husband and child were attending. In a blind panic, the woman heads for the football ground, where she runs into her late husband's boss, police officer Terence Butcher (Matthew Macfadyen). In the following weeks, as she attempts to put her life back in order, she's introduced to, and befriends, a young boy (Sidney Johnston) whose father was involved in the attack.
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As you can probably expect from the synopsis of which I have provided above, it is a very emotional film, and the beautiful Michelle Williams turns out a brilliant performance.
Despite the negative reviews it received upon it's release, 'Incendiary' is definitely worth watching as far as I'm concerned, and really, it is Michelle's acting which is almost reason enough to do so.
The DVD contains bonus interviews with actors Ewan McGregor, Michelle Williams, and Matthew MacFadyen separately, along with the producers Anand Tucker and Andy Paterson, and the film's director Sharon Maguire.
This movie takes a route that's quite different from the book, which (I thought) concentrated more on the erosion of civil liberties by the government and how it manipulates and destroys people's lives, while the film is more about the personal grief of a single person. I found these differences made the original story almost irrelevant to the tale being told in the movie. The story of personal grief told in the film could easily have been accomplished by way of an original screenplay, without adapting the book at all.
Michelle Williams is outstanding in this film, easily the best thing about it. Her accent is very convincing and more that once I got teary watching her performance. The scene where Ewan McGregor's character Jasper visits her in the hospital was particularly moving. McGregor is very good too but I felt his character was sidelined about halfway through and by the end was largely irrelevant.
As for the direction, I thought it at times was too sentimental. For example, the flashbacks of her son on the beach were used far too much. I felt as though I was being clobbered and at one point I said out loud, 'Yes, I get it! Give it a rest!'. I also found the overuse of sentimental music during these scenes irritating. I think this is because I was expecting a different story - ie the one in the book. In the end, the finished film was worthy but not 'incendiary' in the way the book was.
Three years later Director Sharon Maguire, in her first movie since 2001's Bridget Jones' Diary, made this film of Cleave's book. Michelle Williams portrays the grieving mother. Ewan McGregor and Matthew MacFadyen star as men who try to console her. (McGregor's character at the time of the bombing was sharing an "afternoon delight" with her on the living room sofa.)
Williams portrayal is masterful as she relives her son's short life in vivid happy snippets. She is not guilt-ridden nor revenge-seeking. She befriends the son of the bomber and his mother not for revenge but in empathy. The photography of the beach scenes of mother and son at play and the imaginery blimp are stunning. And the ending of the movie will haunt you for days.
Generally, the film received poor professional reviews from critics. Apparently a theme of a simple western woman who empathizes with a third world terrorist's family is too strange to grasp. Tom Charity, after viewing the film at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, gave it one star out of five and called it an "ambitious/opportunistic effort that misses the mark, from the one-dimensional characters to the craven plotting and sentimental tone."
Time Out gave it two stars out of six, saying "there are so many things wrong with writer-director Sharon Maguire's film... that it's hard to know where to start, but the fatal problem is that this is a film with an 'identity crisis'; the film at times seems like a 'study of guilt and grief' and at other times a 'conspiracy thriller' but ends up being a compendium of bizarre diversions, most of which are utterly surplus to the film's half-cocked desire to stick with the experience and emotions of its main character." The male reviewer for Time Out apparently was bent-out-of shape that an American actress was selected to portray a "nervy young British mother on a London council estate" calling the casting a joke.
Neither of these male film critics considered the film a character study nor noted Michelle Williams' stellar performance. She was in almost every scene!
The film kept me interested and wondering what would happen next. I really loved Michelle Williams character who at first seemed quite a flirt then showed her true colors as a mature woman willing to stand up for what she felt and not take the easy way out.
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