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Eye of the Beholder

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Eye of the Beholder

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd
Director: Stephen Elliott
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: January 2000
Genre: Suspense

*Also starring: Patrick Bergin, Jason Priestley, k.d. lang, Genevieve Bujold

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Here's why we need lots and lots of critics. One guy says this about "Eye of the Beholder"..."As it slithers under the skin and behind the brain, 'Eye of the Beholder' works a brand of guileful magic rarely seen in movies today--courageously blurring the line between its characters' inner conflicts and outer lives to create a disturbingly hypnotic odyssey not unlike Alfred Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' or Brian De Palma's 'Obsession.'" Another fellow says this: "I was absolutely dumbfounded. I thought this movie was totally incomprehensible, and the ending seemed arbitrary and pointless. It's shocking how poorly pieced together it is." Other reviews have come through in various shades between these two extremes.

The diversity of opinion could be explained as a conflict between those who want a story to be clear almost from the start and those who prefer movies to be more challenging. Granted: "Eye of the Beholder," based on Marc Behm's 1980 noir novel, is the sort of tale that starts off in a manner so baffling that you'd be tempted to wonder whether two or three movies were spliced together. In fact, if you go into this film realizing that its director, Stephan Elliot, is known principally for two far-out comedies, "Welcome to Woop Woop" and "Priscilla: Queen of the Desert," you can't be blamed for concluding that the man is putting one over on us.

Ah but wait. As we get into the story, the truth begins to unfold. "Eye of the Beholder" is a psychological thriller not unlike Brian De Palma's most intriguing creation, "Obsession," which is itself a rehash of Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (with elements of "Rear Window"). This time the Cliff Robertson role is taken by the strikingly handsome Ewan McGregor, who exhibits the same personal traits as did Robertson's character, with a fine side role by Genevieve Bujold--who was the object of the man's obsession in the De Palma movie but now takes on the role of an ultra-liberal, bleeding-heart parole officer.

McGregor performs in the role of The Eye, a surveillance man with the British Secret Service who has been assigned to spy on the son of his employer and who communicates regularly by modem with a sharply cynical woman named Hilary (k.d. lang). A loner, depressed since his wife walked out on him eight years earlier taking their daughter with her, The Eye has lost it. He's still good at his job, still maintaining the preoccupation with work that led to the breakup of his family. That he frequently hallucinates his daughter's presence--skipping rope, making noise, asking questions, getting in the way of his spying--does not greatly interfere with his tasks. But when he inadvertently witnesses the cold- blooded murder of a man in the midst of a tryst with the beautiful Joanna (Ashley Judd), he becomes strangely captivated by the killer and determined to protect her at all costs. Stalking Joanna in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and even Alaska, he seems to recognize that despite her affinity for serial killing, the two are somehow made for each other. And in a way--considering how both of these tormented individuals went nuts for similar reasons-- they are. Writer/director Elliot appears to invite us to consider why we each choose the person we do, suggesting that some extrasensory insight makes us see into our partner's deepest recesses. It's no wonder that much of the conversation between Joanna and her unlucky male friends turns upon astrology and numerology.

Rarely has anyone in the cinema so successfully stalked another through so many cities--The Eye's accomplishment particularly odd considering the bright red jacket he wears and the smashing good looks that he displays. McGregor turns in a performance that is exceptional for the very reason that he is able to hide his outer feelings from the audience so well. He is a tabula rasa, a poker-faced isolate who lives almost entirely within his own mind, dedicating himself to the protection of this criminally insane woman even at the cost of his own job. Ashley Judd looks equally smashing through most of her disguises, not so hot when she wears a page-boy wig but devastating in a succession of long-hair rugs, both blond and brunette, which she acquires with the money she lifts from her victims. Judd and McGregor are rarely together on screen, giving their one extended dialogue a climactic impact.

If Cliff Robertson and Genevieve's Bujold's connection in "Obsession" never left your mind--and you prayed for a chance to see a rekindling of the subject with equally matched performers--"Eye of the Beholder" is the movie you're looking for. This one might turn off the MTV generation eager for a succession of slam-bang episodes, but will fulfill the hopes of those who believe that vigorous inner action is of more dramatic note than plot-driven, exterior movement.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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