by Jack Sommersby
Here's hoping the eclectic filmmaker Schrader finds his way again, for this is one boo-hiss atrocity.Forever Mine is writer/director Paul Schrader's follow-up to his outstanding Affliction from the previous year, and it's a ludicrous, downright embarrassing piece of work from a moviemaker who's always blown hot and cold. Schrader started out as a screenwriter (Taxi Driver, The Yakuza), then wrote and directed his share of successes (American Gigolo, Light Sleeper) and duds (Hardcore, Light of Day); unfortunately, Forever Mine is one of the latter, with so many overexplicit emotive moments you have to question whether Schrader has completely lost his film sense for what will and will not play -- there's nothing indicative of sound judgment guiding the proceedings; it were as if a poetry-loving high-school stoner dreamt the whole thing up during detention. Schrader has concocted genuinely affecting love stories before, but they benefited from sound dramatic structures and piquant dialogue, whereas Forever Mine plays out like an assortment of stale parts implanted on a rusted-out chassis -- no gravitas, no rootedness, just oodles and oodles of banality. In a botched casting decision right up there with giving the vapid Skeet Ulrich the lead role in his awkward Elmore Leonard adaptation Touch, Schrader's choice of the mediocre Joseph Fiennes as the movie's dashing hero is calamitous in that he's devoid of both charisma and sensuousness; looking rail-thin and with a tinny vocal range bordering on the subterranean, his Florida beach club cabana boy Alan Riply, a quintessential hopeless romantic sure he's destined a beautiful creature no matter her economic status, is supposed to embody pure-hearted "essence." This is Fiennes, though, who has all the sex appeal of a Giovanni Ribisi, the tantalization of a Shia LeBeouf -- he's an unappetizing, second-rate Ryan Gosling at the center of a motion picture with all the allurement of a tax seminar. The way the bare-bones story plays out, Alan becomes infatuated with Ella Brice (Gretchen Mol), the well-taken-care-of wife of unscrupulous New York congressman Mark (Ray Liotta), they start a torrid affair, Ella implausibly confesses to Mark about it, Mark in turn dispatches two henchmen to eliminate Alan, and though shot in the face and left for dead, he miraculously survives. Forward seven years later, Alan reappears disfigured but fabulously wealthy as a drug kingpin, going by the name of Manuel Esquema, who, unrecognizable to both Mark and Ella, presents himself as a well-connected "fixer" who can help Mark with his immense legal problems -- and, of course, reclaim Ella as his destined love.
"Paul Schrader's Nadir"
In a film of countless eye-rolling inanities, we're supposed to accept that just because of a mild disfigurement, black-dyed hair, and a Spanish accent that Alan would go unrecognizable to the Brices when even a myopic-sighted Mr. Magoo could spot him across a crowded room. That "Manuel" isn't any more interesting a character than Alan doesn't help, and neither does Ella's obtuseness to his identity -- if they really are soul mates, wouldn't Ella's love for Alan be more than enough to penetrate his second-rate facade? Schrader serves up the kind of naive story premise that could only work if the film permeated a dreamy enchantment that we could be caught up in from start to finish, and it doesn't; five minutes shy of the two-hour mark, Forever Mine is undernourished -- you keep trying to fill in the blanks in a film populated by hopelessly blank characters. (Schrader was able to somewhat counterbalance this in his mesmerizing 1991 failure The Comfort of Strangers with its voluptuous visual life; here, Schrader's usual cinematographer John Bailey gives us visuals that are drab to look at, as if the celluloid had been submerged in apple juice.) As the star-crossed lovers, Fiennes and Mol have absolutely no chemistry, which isn't too surprising in that isn't the first time Fiennes has proved to be a romantic inadequate, for he was equally underwhelming opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in the obnoxious Shakespeare in Love. Mol is certainly a beauty and tries conveying emotional confliction, but in an honest failing she's wooden and uncommunicative; then again, she's acting alongside either the hopeless Fiennes or Liotta, who, handicapped by his drearily cliched role, has to put all his resources into trying to remain credible. The best performance, and the only one that has any weight, is given by Vincent Laresca, who managed to hold his own with the stalwart Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls. As Alan's best friend and the bodyguard of "Manuel," he's both vivid and appealing, and gets a relationship going with the audience; whenever his character is off-screen the film loses its only semblances of interest. Schrader's been making films for twenty-one years, and right when we think he's learned from past mistakes he'll occasionally dive right off the deep end, serving up an all-out atrocity -- like most auteurs, when he fails, he fails miserably: that's the price of being an auteur. Forever Mine might just be his worst. It's sophomoric and second-rate, and practically devoid of the technical assuredness Schrader's displayed even on his bad days. He's turned into a cinematic Harold Robbins.Check out "Light Sleeper" if you haven't.
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originally posted: 02/25/14 16:16:31