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Mary Reilly

video review out of 4 Movie Review: Mary Reilly

Starring: Julia Roberts, John Malkovich
Director: Stephen Frears
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: February 1996
Genres: Drama, Horror

*Also starring: George Cole, Kathy Staff, Michael Gambon, Glenn Close, Michael Sheen, Bronagh Gallagher, Linda Bassett, Henry Goodman

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows video review
2.  Dragan Antulov read the review video review

Review by Steve Rhodes
½ star out of 4

Although MARY REILLY is being billed as a remake of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, I believe it is actually a remake of MY FAIR LADY. Off screen we have the director (Stephen Frears) playing the Professor Higgins role and the producers (Norma Heyman, Nancy Graham Tanen, and Ned Tanen) playing Colonel Pickering. I can easily imagine Professor Higgins bolding proclaiming that he could take a famous story full of action and imagination, populate it with megastars, turn it into a colossal bore and yet so stun the audience with his audacity that no one would leave. Everyone would know the story and the stars so they would wait until the last moment to realize that he had transformed a prince of a movie into a guttersnipe and that nothing of interest was ever going to happen in the film. As the audience leaves dazed and bewildered, Colonel Pickering must have been singing, "You've done it, you've done it, I can't believe you've done it."

The MARY REILLY on the screen is a remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde told from the view of a maid named Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts). The brilliant actor John Malkovich is Dr. Jekyll as well as his alter ego Mr. Hyde. The only other important part in the movie is Glenn Close badly miscast as the madam of the local bordello where Mr. Hyde gets into trouble. The movie starts off promisingly enough with realistic gas and candle lit photography (Philippe Rousselot). This, however, rapidly degenerates into a movie so dark and with such low contrast that your eyes, when you can keep them awake, will literally hurt from squinting so much trying to make out the action, or usually lack thereof, on the screen. The movie is filmed in Edinburgh, but it is so dark, you'd never know it.

At the thirty minute point, almost nothing had happened save an ineffective flashback to an abusive period in Mary's childhood. Most of the time, during this and all parts of the movie, is devoted to atmospheric scenes of one cast member or another slowly walking through rooms where little happens. It is hard to believe that this movie shares the same lineage with the numerous other Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde pictures.

The screenwriter (Christopher Hampton) is at a loss at how to engage the audience. In a failed attempt to solve this problem he comes up with lots of gratuitous violence and major amounts of human and animal blood. In a typical scene, there is a disemboweled rat laying on a bed in a room with blood splattered everywhere. In another, we have a medical operation complete with hacksaw. Actually, my distaste for the movie comes not from disliking these scenes, but from being put to sleep by the boredom of the show.

In the more minor complain department, when Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde, I did not buy his short curly hair getting longer and straight and his goatee disappearing, and I certainly did not buy the transformation scene lifted straight out of ALIEN. For some reason Dr. Jekyll looks a lot like Ethan Hawke in BEFORE SUNRISE. In Christopher Hampton's MARY REILLY, Dr. Jekyll is a meek and melancholic man, and Mr. Hyde is a handsome and self-assured playboy. Sure. The sparse sets (Stuart Craig) provided nothing of visual interest to engage the viewer.

The acting by the three great stars is an embarrassment. Glenn Close has no idea of what to do with her role and plays it like a stone. Julia Roberts seems to think that so long as she is made up to appear unattractive, and she grimaces a lot, she has achieved great art. Last, and certainly least, is John Malkovich's disappointing performance. I would list him close to the top of the best actors working today. In good shows and bad, I have been nothing less than in awe of his work until now. Somehow, Professor Higgins, I mean Stephen Frears manages to get an uninteresting performance out of Malkovich. This is a miracle I did not think possible.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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