Sunday, May 31, 2015

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (2015)

Written by David Nicholls


Directed by Thomas Vinterberg


Where & When: E Street Cinema, Washington D.C.  May 18, 2015  7:45PM


I have never read the classic novel "Far From The Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy but I'm sure it's no where near as lifeless and uninspired as this latest film adaptation. The director Thomas Vinterberg began his career as a co-founder of Dogme 95 (along with the notorious, Lars von Trier), a radical Danish movement that brought attention to getting back to the basics of story-telling by not using modern visual effects. Since his terrific Dogme debut, "Festen (The Celebration)" (which won a well-deserved jury prize at the 1998 Cannes festival), Vinterberg has pretty much abandoned this adventurous concept and has settled into more conventional film making. His last film was the understated but powerful "Jagten (The Hunt)" which earned the director a 2012 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.  "Far" has a much larger budget and delivers a grand, sweeping style but lacks a more imaginative approach in telling this enduring love story.

The film looks ravishing thanks to cinematographer, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, production designer, Kave Quinn and the exquisite costumes by Janet Patterson. We also have on hand strong performances by the quite talented, Carey Mulligan taking on the fiercely independent, Bathsheba Everdene and the Belgium hunk, Matthias Schoenaerts as one of her suitors along with a fine supporting cast. But none of these wonderful elements come together to create the passionate romantic epic that was clearly intended. The result is more tepid at best with the colorless script by David Nicholls leaves the film feeling truncated and rushed.

Set in Victorian England, Bathsheba has a strong desire to remain unmarried, particularly strange for a young woman of this era. She is quite content working on her aunt's modest farm but catches the eye of Gabriel Oak (Schoenaerts), a handsome shepherd. They become friendly and soon Gabriel asks her to become his bride. Despite her hasty rejection, this decision seems to quietly inflame his desire even more for this odd beauty.

Their lives take an unexpected turn as Gabriel loses his entire herd in a tragic accident, forcing him to sell what little he has left and leave in search of work. Bathsheba inherits an uncle's farm in a nearby village and becomes quite wealthy. Circumstances bring these two together once again but now Gabriel is hired to work for Bathsheba.

Bathsheba inadvertently attracts the attention of her neighbor, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an affluent bachelor after playfully sending him a valentine. Taking this quite seriously, the lonely Boldwood's heart is awakened after years of dormancy.  He asks for her hand in marriage, which Bathsheba regrettably declines, but he's patient and willing to wait for her to come around.

Another admirer enters Bathsheba's orbit, a charming young sergeant named Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). With an act of seduction involving his sword, Bathsheba surprisingly falls under his spell and for the first time feels actual yearning. Fearful of losing the solider, she agrees to marry Frank. After the glow of matrimony dims, Bathsheba is soon introduced to the true man and with that, a dark secret surfaces.

As we witness Bathsheba's efforts to maneuver through as a steadfast woman, not wanting to lose herself in a decidedly man's world, we are shown how much our society has evolved and how much has stubbornly remained the same. Throughout all of Bathsheba's lapse of judgement, difficult adversity and tragic misfortune, Gabriel remained by her side, offering advice (whether solicited or not), guidance and friendship. She is the last to know what becomes obvious, that what you might be searching for has been with you all the time.

"Far From The Madding Crowd" is far from a bad film. It just doesn't feel necessary at least in the way it's been assembled. The film hits all of major points of the novel but it's cinematic structure is strictly by-the-numbers. With a lead character who was all about taking risks and facing challenges, it's surprising so little was taken here.