March 2, 2008

Natalie, Scarlett: Who's Your Money On?

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Backstabbing your sister, deceiving your lover, incest and whoring out your body? Oh, what have you done, Natalie Portman? Despite her dark demeanor, Natalie Portman’s role is the reason you should go see Justin Chadwick’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Based off the novel by the same name, this film places you in 16th century England, during the reign of Henry VIII. The Other Boleyn Girl is based on Henry VIII’s quest to produce a male heir, but focuses more on the Boleyn sisters who charmed him.
The film starts with two children, the Boleyn sisters Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson), frolicking in the tall, golden grass that definitely covers the entirety of England.
Their father Sir Thomas (Mark Rylance) is conversing with his brother, explaining that Anne and Mary are already complete opposites. Mary is pretty but simple and naïve, while Anne is already complicated and cunning. These observations prove to be a major theme for the entire movie.
Next, we jump 15 years in the future, where King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) has just learned that his wife had a miscarriage and that she will not be able to become pregnant again. Desperate for a son, King Henry starts looking for mistresses, starting with the Boleyn family.
Upon hearing the news, Sir Thomas decides that the opportunity to appease the king and as a result, gain massive wealth and a greater position is worth more than his love for his daughters, and begins to throw them at the king in an effort to seduce him, starting with his favorite, Anne. During the visit though, Anne falters, and the King actually chooses Mary over her. Note: this is when everything falls apart.
The second half of the film unfortunately plays out like a mediocre soap opera. Clearly, there is way too much in the novel to fit in the movie.
As a result, the work is halfway between being engrossing and what-the-hell-is-going-to-happen now …
Thankfully, there are some great acting performances in the film. Natalie Portman is awesome playing Anne Boleyn, who is exceedingly mysterious and cunning, but eventually tormented by her family, King Henry VIII and her conscience. Portman’s performance captured the desperation of a woman who risks everything to gain everything.
Scarlett Johansson has a one-sided role as usual, as the beautiful but naïve foil to her sister Anne who falls waist-deep for the handsome and powerful king. Johansson has so much practice for this job from works such as Scoop, that she fits into her role very naturally, if not predictably.
The only real disappointment is Eric Bana. Chadwick did not utilize any of the talent that Bana showed in Munich, instead opting to make him into a fumbling, arrogant fool, playing second fiddle to Portman for the entirety of the movie. Despite misusing Bana, Chadwick does a good job providing the “stars” of this work with a sound supporting cast, namely Kristin Scott Thomas, the tormented mother of the Boleyn sisters.
Similar to Sophia Coppola with Marie Antoinette, Chadwick makes a valiant effort with setting and costumes. There are some beautiful shots of what appears to be backyard England, but most of the action takes place in the ornate rooms of King Henry’s kingdom. As soon as Anne enters the kingdom to seduce King Henry, there is a visible change; the lighting becomes much darker and the rooms become more claustrophobic. This effect is impossible to ignore, and does a great deal in setting the mood for the majority of the movie.
The Other Boleyn Girl is a movie worth watching, but not one to get too excited for. The story of the Tudors is an incredibly rich one, but one that is better dealt with in novels. Natalie Portman’s performance by itself is something to behold, however, which may actually be the movie’s largest draw, along with the majestic costumes that Portman, Johansson and Bana put on in every big screen. A fairly generic drama, The Other Boleyn Girl may be a movie that you should wait for to come out on DVD.