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The Disappearance of Alice Creed'

Aug. 3, 2010 at 3:03 a.m.


Friday 8-6 release () -

By Christopher Kelly

McClatchy Newspapers

(MCT)

There is only one word of dialogue in the first 10 minutes of "The Disappearance of Alice Creed": "OK," Danny (Martin Compston) says to Vic (Eddie Marsan), to signal that they're ready to kidnap the title character, Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton), the daughter of a wealthy businessman.

The rest of this long, hypnotizing sequence consists mostly of preparations, as the two men outfit the van in which they'll transport the victim, and soundproof the apartment in which she'll be kept. The first-time director, J Blakeson, adopts a methodical, but brisk pace, steadily deepening the sense of dread with the help of the superbly moody music by Marc Canham. It's an extraordinary feat of visual storytelling, showing us everything, telling us nothing.

That's your first clue that you're watching a thriller a cut above the rest. Your second comes later, when you gradually realize that these are the only three characters in the film, and that the apartment where Alice is being kept is basically the only setting. "The Disappearance of Alice Creed" suggests some kind of crazed alliance between Harold Pinter and Eli Roth, an intimate, tortured psychological drama, emphasis on the torture. Alliances form and re-form, violence spills out in every direction, and while ultimately isn't much "there" there - the movie is about nothing other than its own style and flair - Blakeson's storytelling is engrossing and unnerving in equal measure.

The less said about the plot the better, since Blakeson (who also wrote the screenplay) springs two surprises, at two different points in the movie, that force us to reevaluate everything that's come before. Danny and Vic are doggedly detailed kidnappers, who - despite having never done this before - seem to have planned for every possible outcome. Alice is at first terrified, but increasingly resistant and determined to escape, especially after the men cuff her to a bed in the apartment, strip her, and later force her to use a bedpan in order to urinate. Negotiations with her father, who may or may not be willing to pay the millions that are being asked, mostly take place off screen.

A couple of early reviews have quibbled with the way the film treats Alice, ogling her naked body, subjecting her to assorted physical and sexual humiliations. But Arterton (who played Agent Strawberry Fields in the last Bond film, "Quantum of Solace") is a headstrong, physically confident actress who resists subjugation, literally and figuratively. If this is a man's world - and a man's movie - her performance nonetheless asserts a place in it.. Even more intriguing is Blakeson's feel for the sometimes dangerously blurry lines between violence and sexuality. He keeps pushing the story in directions that are at once psychologically murky and uncomfortably erotic; he turns you on - and then makes you feel guilty for feeling turned out. In other words, pay special attention to those handcuffs.

The final 15 minutes of the film are a bit of a wash - the twists finally turn a little too improbable, and a couple of significant plot holes are never adequately addressed. (Why, after Alice's father involves the police, do the police disappear entirely from the equation?) But Blakeson's direction is so assured and the performances are so strong (especially Marsan, doing another variation on the bloke-who's-mad-at-the-world character he played in Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky") that mostly you feel grateful.

Indeed, it's a poignant irony that this movie, which opens Friday on just 12 screens nationwide to drum up some interest for a DVD and cable release, arrives the same week that the indie studio Miramax was sold by Disney to a group of investors, who likely will mine its backlist and not produce any new films. "The Disappearance of Alice Creed" is exactly the kind of movie - like "Pulp Fiction," or "Priest," or "Heavenly Creatures" - that first made Miramax so successful: Flashy, button-pushing entertainment, made for adults, free of superheroes and/or set-ups for a franchise.

Works like these simply aren't being made anymore, and when they are, they're barely released into more than a handful of theaters. More than being just the best crime thriller so far this year, "The Disappearance of Alice Creed" makes you nostalgic for a better age of moviegoing.

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THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED

4 stars (out of 5)

Rated R (strong violence, strong language, nudity, sexual content), 100 min.

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(c) 2010, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Visit the Star-Telegram on the World Wide Web at http://www.star-telegram.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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