October 31, 2005

Separate Lies1/2 Star

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Separate Lies is an insult to our intelligence and an offense to our eyes, ears and even our gluteus maximus for making us stay in the theater so long and suffer this idiocy. The movie is a thriller, a romance, a melodrama, a mystery and just plain dumb all at once and relentlessly throughout. While it is billed as a “serious movie” and a “drama,” don’t let this mask fool you: the film is just as poorly done and vacuous as the cheap sci-fi and comedy films that are excoriated by eggheads from across the critical spectrum. In fact, it is an even more infuriating movie-going experience because it utterly fails at what the aforementioned cheap films accomplish: being entertaining to the slightest degree.

The “story:” James (Tom Wilkinson) and Anne Manning (Emily Watson) seemingly live the ideal life: beautiful country home, fine restaurants, caviar, cricket and cash. But James works too much and doesn’t give enough attention and love to Anne. After Anne meets the young, brash and carefree Billy Bule (Rupert Everett), she realizes that she doesn’t love James anymore and an affair soon strikes up between the two. When Anne confesses to James her role in the killing of a local resident, who was knocked off his bike by a speeding car, of which Anne was driving with Billy as the passenger, she also confesses to the affair. When an investigation of the accident begins, James, Anne and Billy must coexist and cook up an alibi in order to keep Anne out of jail, compounding the burden of all the lies and deception.

Don’t be thrown off by the story-summary jargon: this movie doesn’t have much of a moral or a message or an intention. Well, maybe it does, but I sure as hell couldn’t see it. The film is hopelessly contrived, and, as it goes on, it morphs from one genre to the next. As the characters get mired in their own bog of lies, and the plot gets more convoluted and artificial, they get dumber and dumber along with the movie itself.

These extraordinary, awful things happen in their lives, and none of the moments are given any weight, pause or concern. To them, discussing what to do about the affair is like discussing the restaurant at which they are going to dine, and driving over to Billy’s house to confront the problem is like going to the store to pick up a gallon of milk. The characters just keep chugging on through the vacuum of the plot, casually swatting away the problems that they encounter.

This movie is one of the few that manages the impressive feat of incorporating every single film clich into its dramatic folds. When Anne leaves James, he is left to sob in her scarf, a scene whose sadness is compounded by the fact that it’s reflected in the mirror of a wardrobe. James is reminded of the son he never had when he gracefully returns the soccer ball to an innocent, little angel playing in the park. And my favorite: James is walking on the streets when, through the rain-streaked window, he sees his wife and Billy kissing in a restaurant.

And the script! Oh the tortuous, banal script! Not one line was eloquent or moving – if you took a magazine, cut out all the text, chopped up all the words and randomly rearranged them, you would have a more interesting and affecting script than that of Separate Lies. Everyone talks in this pithy, lifeless manner.

Separate Lies is one of the worst movies I have seen in a long time. I completely dropped out of the movie about 15 minutes before it ended, furiously scribbling invective onto my notepad. As I said, it encompasses many genres, but I laughed at the drama, cringed at the comedy and cried during the mystery. I think it’s fitting that I sum up Separate Lies with a cliche: it tries to be a Jack of all trades but is master of none.

Archived article by Terry Fedigan
Sun Staff Writer