July, 2004, Drama

Directed by:Neil LaBute

Starring:Aaron Eckhart, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle, Holly Aird, and Lena Headey

Truman Capote described one of “In Cold Blood’s” killers as possessing a face that looked as though it had been cut in two like a grapefruit, with the haves a bit off-center when put back together. This filmed adaptation of A.S.Blyatt’s well-received novel of the same name traces a pair of contemporary literary sleuths on the trail of a possible affair between Queen Victoria’s poet laureate, (fictitious) and a woman of letters, (also fictitious) circa 1895.

The modern day academic detectives-Gwyneth Patron and Aaron Elkhart- are far too self-absorbed to be very interesting, but the objects of their investigation, (Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle) are genuinely convincing as kindred spirits whose intellectual admiration develops slowly and convincingly into a passionate affair doomed from its start to destroy them both and those close to them.

Director Neil LaBute, (Men of Honor) whose earlier work evidences a ferocious skepticism about the ability of lovers to be honest with each other, manages to bring his 19th century couple to fully realized credibility, but he lapses back into old habits with the contemporary pair, giving them commitment problems which only bore his audience. 

That’s too bad; LaButte glides back and forth effortlessly from one era to another and propels his storyline with such winning attention to detail that the whole really should have been better than the sum of its parts. Best of all, Northam and Ehle bring a sensuous passion to their relationship precisely because it’s delayed until both fully understand the nature and extent of its potentially destructive force. 

The Verdict? Like Capote’s description of one half of the killing duo from In Cold Blood, the two halves of this film distort each other by their proximity.

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