The Robber Bride

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Saturday, March 3
Oxygen

Lest there be any remaining question that Mary-Louise Parker can act, that's settled with her mesmerizing performance in "The Robber Bride," an original telepic adapted from the best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood that plays as a clear cut above the typical dopeyness of this genre. The "Weeds" star puts on an acting clinic here that serves to explain why she would agree to star in a movie for Oxygen.

As femme fatale sociopath Zenia Arden, Parker is a wacko revelation: seductive, chilling, charming, shrewd and -- at all times -- utterly believable. The way she plays it, it's easy to see why women would devote themselves to her, men would fall in love with her and even we in the audience might be taken in by her undeniable charm (even though we're onto her from the start).

It also helps that scribe Tassie Cameron's adaptation of the Atwood tome skillfully distills the essence of the mystery into tantalizing vignettes that only occasionally veer off into absurdity. She and director David Evans are fortunate to have Parker on hand to keep things centered on the ministrations of such a world-class manipulator the likes of which we're rarely treated to on any screen.

The plot surrounds Arden's apparent murder and subsequent whodunit. Except it's not nearly that simple. We learn at the outset that her finger has turned up next to her blood-soaked car, leading the police to believe they have uncovered a homicide. A guy with sufficient motive is locked behind bars. And then everything goes all screwy. It turns out our hellish heroine is in fact very much alive, having staged her murder to get back at her lover and toy with the heads of many others. So smoothly sinister is Zenia that she even is able to enlist the aid of three former friends (Susan Lynch, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Root) whom she betrayed by stealing their money, their man or their kid.

All of the women have strong reasons for wanting this enigmatic dame dead. But she's so good she ropes them in anew, which we discover at the same time as John Grismer (Shawn Doyle), an ex-cop out to prove the innocence of the man currently behind bars. Even he gets taken for a ride by Zenia. A couple of come-hither glances and -- typical man that he is -- he's toast. But "Bride" constantly takes U-turns and sharp lefts that toy with our sentiments, keeping us perpetually off balance.

And again, Parker has never been better than she is here, which is saying something. She has this effortless way that barely seems like acting at all. You never believe that she's even working up a sweat. But hers is a deceptively complex style that brings irresistible juice to a film that has no business being this intriguing. She takes the production in her arms and lifts it to the rarefied air that's pretty much unprecedented for Oxygen.

The Robber Bride
Oxygen
Working Title Television and Shaftesbury Films in association with Oxygen

Credits: Executive producers: Simon Wright, Christina Jennings, Scott Garvie; Producers: Brian Dennis, Julia Stannard; Co-producers: Julie Lacey, Laurie McLarty, Priscilla Parish; Director: David Evans; Teleplay: Tassie Cameron; Based on the novel by: Margaret Atwood; Director of photography: Thomas M. Harting; Production designer: Aidan Leroux; Costume designer: Lea Carlson; Editor: Bill Diver; Music: Robert Carli; Sound mixer: Steve Marian; Casting: Jenny Lewis, Sara Kay, Kate Rhodes James. Cast: Zenia Arden: Mary-Louise Parker; John Grismer: Shawn Doyle; Charis White: Susan Lynch; Roz Andrews: Wendy Crewson; Tony Fremont: Amanda Root; Henry Kelly: Greg Bryk; Augusta: Tatiana Maslany; Juanita: Jennifer Podemski; Sgt. Rankin: Conrad Pla; Diver: Spike Adamson.

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