'True Crime': Film Review | Warsaw 2016
Jim Carrey and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in award-winning Greek director Alexandros Avranas' English-language debut, a Polish-American thriller world-premiering at the Polish festival.
Spicy real-life ingredients and a terrific international cast are frustratingly wasted in Alexandros Avranas' True Crime, in which Jim Carrey — essaying the most serious role of his mercurial career — makes a reasonable stab at playing an obsessive Polish cop tackling that one inevitable last case before retirement.
Based on a fascinating New Yorker article about a homicide investigation and the charismatic novelist eventually convicted of the murder, the picture aims for grim intensity but too often ends up dourly overwrought. The presence of Carrey in such an unlikely role alongside art house and festival-circuit favorites like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Vlad Ivanov will nevertheless guarantee a measure of big-screen play internationally, but North American theatrical prospects look as uninviting as the film's autumnally humdrum Krakow settings.
The Poland-U.S. co-production, which conspicuously bypassed Toronto and Venice to bow in a noncompetitive slot at Warsaw, may fare best with Polish audiences, many of whom will be very familiar with the case chronicled in David Grann's essay, True Crime: A Postmodern Murder Mystery. According to the DCP shown at Warsaw, the film retains Grann's title (although all advance publicity materials referred to it as True Crimes, plural) but dispenses with the subtitle — a warning that the filmmakers have little real interest in exploring the intriguing postmodern aspects of the tale.
Polish viewers and readers of Grann's article will likely be bemused and even baffled, however, by the extensive and generally ill-advised liberties taken by scriptwriter Jeremy Brock, who more nimbly combined fact and fiction on screenplays such as Mrs Brown and The Last King of Scotland. Here his protagonist is fiftyish lawman Tadek (Carrey), dubbed "the last honest cop in Poland" by his more successful colleague Piotr (Ivanov), seemingly his only pal on the force. A meticulous, impassive, quietly hulking man whose home life with his wife (Agata Kulesza) and teenage daughter is chiefly notable for stony silences, Tadek throws himself into his work — he's the kind of straight-arrow loner cop we've seen a thousand times before on big screen and small alike.
He becomes fixated on a cold case involving the death of a man known to frequent a certain S&M sex club, whose dungeon-dwelling denizens also included successful writer Kozlow (Marton Csokas). It turns out that one of Kozlow's books pivots on a murder whose details happen to coincide with the actual killing, propelling the supercilious celebrity-scribe to the top of the suspects' list. Complications ensue, many of them of a clunky and/or plausibility-testing nature.
True Crime starts promisingly enough, with a confrontationally extreme montage set in the prison-like confines of the sex-club, chock-full of nudity, violence, sex and Salo-type degradations, accompanied by arrestingly loud musical stylizations by Richard Patrick and Tobias Enhus. But just as the duo's overused score later veers toward histrionic bombast, the film's steely swagger too often tips over into stylistic affectation.
Very little feels organic here; everything is very much calculated and calibrated for effect, and the mood of airlessness as we trudge through gray streets, underlit rooms and drab corridors is more suffocating than stimulating. Some sequences, including Kozlow undergoing a brisk polygraph test, are borderline risible; ditto an eventful spell in which Carrey discovers his aged mother's decomposing corpse and then, minutes later, goes home to find his wife and daughter have finally flown the coop.
Aspirations toward social commentary via occasional references to the Communist olden days are, meanwhile, clumsily integrated. Neither Brock nor Avranas — named best director at Venice in 2013 for modishly sullen dysfunctional-family drama Miss Violence — are themselves Polish; at such junctures it's hard to avoid speculating what Roman Polanski (whose name was linked to the project at one stage) or his countryman Wojciech Smarzowski, who excels with similar fare, might have come up with.
As it is, Avranas and casting director Marta Kownacka have assembled a remarkable array of talents from all over the globe: Canadian-American Carrey, British-French Gainsbourg, Moldavian-Romanian Ivanov, Hungarian-Kiwi Csokas — his Kozlow a ripe incarnation of sneering contempt — and Finland's Kati Outinen, so wonderful in several films by Aki Kaurismaki, but sadly sidelined here as a stern superior. There's also a tokenistic smattering of Poles in bit parts, plus Ida sensation Kulesza in the thankless embittered-wife role and major domestic draw Robert Wieckiewicz — Lech Walesa in the late Andrzej Wajda's 2013 biopic — similarly wasted as the corrupt, seedy chief of police.
In an outmoded device that gives proceedings a strong Europudding whiff, everyone from Carrey on down, with just a single exception, speaks with an Eastern European accent — Wieckiewicz's so heavy as to render several of his lines indecipherable. That one exception is Gainsbourg as Kozlow's on-off girlfriend Kasia, the bruised-and-battered, drug-addicted single-mother femme fatale at the dark heart of this twisty neo-noir.
Kasia is, like everyone else here, supposed to be Polish, but Gainsbourg is for some reason allowed to speak in her usual upper-class English tones. It's surely no coincidence that the actress, who has explored rather similar territory in her more profitably boundary-pushing collaborations with Lars von Trier, turns in the film's most compelling and nuanced characterization.
Indeed, True Crime only really comes to life in the very final moments via a Gainsbourg monologue which finally provides a relatively satisfying solution to what has become a disorientingly convoluted murder puzzle — bearing only the most tangential connection to the picture's supposed journalistic basis. Presented via Avranas's preferred mode of direct address to a tripod-fixed, close-up camera, this denouement represents the most audacious of Brock's many flights of creative fancy, and also the most successful. But it's not so much eleventh hour as mere seconds before midnight: a little too little, and much too late.
Production companies: RatPac Entertainment, Gerson Films, Opus Film
Cast: Jim Carrey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Vlad Ivanov, Piotr Glowacki, Robert Wickiewicz, Kati Outinen, Agata Kulesza
Director: Alexandros Avranas
Screenwriter: Jeremy Brock (based on an article by David Grann)
Producers: Brett Ratner, David Gerson, John Cheng, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman
Executive producers: Michael Aguilar, Patrick Murray, Kasia Nabialczyk, James Packer
Cinematographer: Michal Englert
Production designer: Wojciech Zogala
Costume designer: Mayou Trikerioti
Editor: Agnieszka Glinska
Composers: Richard Patrick, Tobias Enhus
Casting director: Marta Kownacka
Venue: Warsaw Film Festival (Special Screenings)
Sales: WME, Beverly Hills ([email protected])
No Rating, 92 minutes