Saturday, June 4, 2011

Jane Eyre - Review

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre has been adapted for the screen no less than 20 times, so one may wonder why Cary Fukunaga (2009's Sin Nombre) has made another. 

Track it down, though, & be grateful that he did.

As quietly tense & gloomy as the poster suggests, Fukunaga's adaptation is an artful, unhurried piece of cinema perched somewhere between Hitchcock's Rebecca and Campion's The Piano. 

Screenwriter Moira Buffini plots out Charlotte Bronte's substantial plot with a flashback structure that lends a sense of foreboding and inevitability to Jane's story, and the technical elements, from the period costumes and sets, to Dario Marianelli's sumptuous, awards-worthy score, are top notch. But the highlight is Adriano Goldman's misty, smoky, often candle-lit cinematography, casting a sense of perpetual possibility over the whole film.  

Jane Eyre is essentially a character study and a fairly heavy social commentary on the limited opportunities and value of women and the working class in nineteenth century England, but it is also a gothic mystery, and is at its best as an unconventional love story.  

Mia Wasalowski (interpreting another classic literary incarnation after Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland) stretches herself as Jane, restricted by the boundaries drawn for her by society, and withdrawn due to love that was withheld from her, but refusing to quieten the passion & unconventionality within. A passionate and strong-minded heroine unsure of her future, director Fukunaga's style allows her time to explore Jane's moods & inner world beyond the constrains of the plot. 

Wasalowski is young, though, and at times the depth of the character feels more acted out than genuine, as if Wasalowski cannot quite carry the full weight of Jane's life, but it is nevertheless a strong performance and, in its best moments, a startlingly powerful one. 

What brings out the true power in Wasalowski's performance is her co-star, the ever-brilliant Michael Fassbender, as the cold and eccentric Rochester. Fassbender's creation is a truly original one that feels like it couldn't possibly be improved on. He feels fully in command of Rochester's every word and gesture, and brings a sharpness and vitality to him that is at once off-putting and alluring. One of the male performances of the year.

The chemistry between Jane and Rochester is electric, while their conversations are never less than thrillingly unpredictable. He is erudite, confrontational & wildly enigmatic, while she is refreshingly direct, otherworldly and egoless.  

This is no lace and love letters period romance, it is a dark and broody tale of two very unlikely people drawn into a strange and complex courtship with a hard-earned conclusion. Their central relationship fuels the film with an offbeat pulse.

I have never read the book, so I can't vouch for the faithfulness of the adaptation, but Fukunaga's film is a fully formed piece of cinema that never feels rushed or incomplete, and manages to sustain its dreamy mood and and authenticity through major plot and genre coils.

But, of course, one cannot review a movie starring Judi Dench without reviewing Judi Dench. Dame Judi plays Mrs Fairfax, Rochester's devoted, if simple-minded, housekeeper - who believes that the answer to Jane's yearning for the adventures of men - is fresh air & physical exercise. With Judi Dench it is never a question of good or bad, but rather of good or Oscar-worthy. Here she is very good, but not Oscar-worthy. She admirably takes quite a backseat to the passion of the central relationship, but naturally commands attention and brings nuance in all her scenes.  

All in all highly recommended.

Short clip - Mia Wasalowski, Judi Dench & Adriano Goldman's camera work: