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Life and Death of Peter Sellers, The

Reviewed By Trevor Gensch
Posted 08/23/04 23:53:43

"Geoffrey Rush gives an uncanny depiction of a funny-man"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

For those familiar with Peter Sellers this biopic from Director Stephen Hopkins isn't going to hold a lot of surprises, although it may help fill in a few gaps. It follows the fragmented style of its source material that shares the same title, an engrossing book by Roger Lewis published in 1994.

What Lewis's book doesn't give you though is a raft of top-notch performances by some superb actors at the top of their game, presented in a fashion that is never boring, and keeps the viewer in a constant state of amusement, distress and interest.

The whole film hinges on how well Geoffrey Rush plays, nay, inhabits the form of Peter Sellers and make the audience forget that its an actor under those false wigs, raincoats, prosthetics and beards. And I am happy to report that he succeeds even beyond the wildest expectations of this film reviewer.

He brings an air of melancholy to a man who it seems was only really alive when performing, and by his own admission had no personality of his own. He was a violent man, prone to fits of rage and irrationality. Being thrust into the world spotlight must have been terribly conflicting for him - here was a plain looking man being adored by hordes of fans, yet it did little to suage his own loneliness and mis-directed resentment against others.

Hopkins uses a couple of devices to guide us through the life of this lonely, bitter man. Those familiar with Seller's films know that he often played roles that called for a degree of makeup, or extraordinary costuming, or even roles that required him to play 3 characters! Hopkins uses this in the film as Rush impersonates characters that are interacting with his life - we see the scene played out before us, and then, employing some nifty camera trick or other, Rush becomes that character, giving us a "fourth wall" aside, bringing the viewer even closer to the man himself, Peter Sellers.

Amongst the forms that Rush shows us are mimics of his mother Peg, his father, Director Blake Edwards, and in one hilarious scene, his first wife Anne, in which he redubs a portion of film to better fit in with his own distorted view of the world.

A great supporting cast has been assembled - John Lithgow as his long-time collaborator Blake Edwards, Stanley Tucci as Kubrick and Charlize Theron as his second wife Britt Ekland to name but a few. They all play their part in bringing to life various aspects of Seller's troubled life.

The use of music throughout the film serves as clear audio signposts of where we are at. It's always a surprise to suddenly hear a pop song and realise what year it is from, instantly centering you in the time period being presented better than any boring title card or voiceover ever could.

In the end, Peter Sellers isn't a particularly interesting person; his films stand as more fitting testament to his status as entertainer than this biopic ever will. But the journey getting there is one that is worthy of your time.

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