Monday, 11 September 2017

Review: The Limehouse Golem

The Limehouse Golem
Cert: 15 / 108 mins / Dir. Juan Carlos Medina / Trailer

Where better to watch a film about London's grimy old East End than… London's shiny new West End? Don't worry, that's a rhetorical question. Had the gods of cinematic-scheduling been on my side, I'd have seen The Limehouse Golem at West India Quay, less than a mile away from the Limehouse district itself. Indeed, I went there immediately afterward. Instead, I took in this performance from the expensive seats in Leicester Square, safe in the knowledge that I'd have a better class of ruffian to contend with upon leaving the theatre…

Adapted from Peter Ackroyd's novel, the story begins in 1880 as a brutal serial killer works the streets, capturing the attention of the police and imagination of the public. Thrust into the middle of the carnage is Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy), assigned what is seen by his superiors as an escalatingly impossible case. Along with his constable, George Flood (Daniel Mays), Kildare's investigation is rapidly drawn to the music halls of the East End, where the killer seemingly had many connections, not least the show-headliner of the era, Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) and upcoming star Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke). Not only does Kildare need to unmask the murderer before the next attack, he needs to do so before an innocent is hanged for the crimes…

While the shelf-tag of Victorian Gothic Horror now houses a far wider selection of screen entertainment than it used to, it's nonetheless nice to see it done so well by a director who hails from Florida. Juan Carlos Medina has had plenty of Anglocentric help along with way of course, with Jane Goldman (she of The Woman In Black, among others) screenwriting the Londoner Ackroyd's original tome, as well as a cast who fit their surroundings almost seamlessly. The story itself here is told through intricately layered framing devices which keep the audience on their toes, without becoming needlessly confusing*1. But in terms of the grimy, bloodsoaked atmospherics, Medina gets to lift the award on this one.

The period detail at a visual level is exquisite, although some of the leading characters' social attitudes are conspicuously progressive. That's always a risk in writing for a modern audience, of course. The cast are more of a mixed bag, however. As good as Nighy is in the driving role, I'm not sure he's the best choice for his character. Douglas Booth is theatrically solid enough as Dan Leno, but seems to be playing his role as it if had been written for Johnny Depp (although I'm eternally grateful that it wasn't). And on a more critical note, Olivia Cooke just doesn't display the range her part requires. For the most part, Cooke's dramatic translation of 'stoic fatalism' comes off as boredom*2, like a pound-shop Keira Knightly (yes, exactly). It's probably not too harsh to say that in this particular play, the writing upstages the performance.

All in all, The Limehouse Golem is an entertaining thriller, perhaps more suited to an Autumnal release. There's also the feeling that the story could have had more room to breathe as a four-part TV drama, but at least a run-time of under two hours ramps up the claustrophobia and urgency of Kildare's ghoulish investigation…

Genuine question for those who've seen it: Do all the prints of this film have slightly muffled sound throughout, affecting the spoken Ss and Ts? It wasn't an issue during the ads or trailers so I know it's not the cinema's hardware at fault. It was workable (although definitely noticeable) in the film's quiet scenes, but anything involving background noise meant that most of the dialogue got lost in an auditory blur.

Just wondering because it seems like an odd artistic choice, that's all.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The Prestige, Interview With The Vampire.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
It's a bit 'Sunday night TV', but the atmospherics will be amplified in the cinema.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Just about.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Certainly not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Definitely not.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Tivik is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Although it quickly becomes apparent that The Limehouse Golem will be a tale set on a twisty road. Those who smart-arsedly second-guess plot-progresions will have a whale of a time; likewise I'm delighted that they'll essentially be spoiling the ending for themselves. Great work, guys. [ BACK ]

*2 There is perhaps a longer discussion to be had (although this isn't the time or place) about Cooke's character being a celebrated darling of the music hall whilst being emotionally inanimate off-stage. It could well be a deliberate dramatic conceit, although having witnessed her work in Ouija and The Quiet Ones, I'd be inclined to doubt that… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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