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The Eye of the Storm

2011 | 119 min | R

The Eye of the Storm


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Theatrical release date

 07 September, 2012
 03 May, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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The Eye of the Storm


The Eye of the Storm Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 6, 2012

Adapted from the 1973 novel by Patrick White, “The Eye of the Storm” is a film about vicious behavior committed by exhausted people. It’s not an easy sit, teeming with venom and chaotic states of mind, but there’s a wonderful focal point in the three lead performances from Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, and Judy Davis. Providing exemplary work to a picture in desperate need of defined emotional directions, the cast carries the heavy burden of the material with dignity. The same cannot be said of helmer Fred Schepisi, who stumbles through the muddy drama, placing more concentration on family dysfunction than compelling narrative direction.

Once influential and desired, Elizabeth Hunter (Charlotte Rampling) is now at death’s door, fighting waves of dementia and illness that have swallowed her life. Residing in an empty mansion with a handful of caretakers to help administer medicine and entertain her, Elizabeth waits impatiently for visits from her two children, Basil (Geoffrey Rush), a womanizing actor, and frazzled Dorothy (Judy Davis). Having alienated her offspring years ago, Elizabeth still demands attention and retains power over the pair, using financial rewards to keep the siblings within reach, despite their uncertainty and reluctance to be near their mother. As her condition worsens, Elizabeth’s mind races back to fateful day during a powerful storm, reliving this specific terror and spiritual release over and over, while Basil and Dorothy struggle with their personal relationships, feeling they will never be free of their mother’s control.

Retaining a literary-style concentration on the disintegration of a combustible family, “The Eye of the Storm” finds its greatest power in the early moments of the feature. Spotlighting Elizabeth’s interactions with the help and abusive behavior around her children, the movie isolates a gripping atmosphere of disorientation and intentional disregard (supported with a jazz score by Paul Grabowsky), observing the matriarch cling to what remains of her mind, aided by the house staff, the eldest of which takes to musical performance to keep her employer alert and comforted. The primary dynamic between Elizabeth and her children fuels the highlights of the picture, grabbing the viewer with pronounced displays of disdain and false pleasantries, communicated beautifully in these lead performances, which provide welcome subtlety, expressing the confusion of childhood, anger, discomfort, and compliance in minimal body language. The first half of “The Eye of the Storm” constructs an intriguing web of disease (boosted by images of rotting food and cracked house foundations), promising a resolution of tremendous upheaval and exposure, getting to the bottom of Dorothy’s persistently agitated state.

A subplot following Basil’s romantic pursuits of caretaker (played by Alexandra Schepisi) carries initial promise, managing to smoothly exit the house and find life for the character that encourages dimension (his turbulent life has brought on embarrassing sexual performance issues). Dorothy also has her pains of neglect and disturbing familial ties triggered by debt problems, also working out a richness of personality best served through confidential acts of reflection. The story soon drives over some bumpy political and relationship roadways, pulling attention away from the core trio. Perhaps this respectfully services the adaptation needs of the book, but the feature loses its way the further Schepisi and screenwriter Judy Morris reach out to define the fringes of this Australian world.

The second half of the feature dissolves into madness, an intentional decline the director manages poorly, leaning on chaos to bring out a satisfying climax instead of treating the harsh revels and confessions with a straightforwardness they deserve. “The Eye of the Storm” loses its impact despite the tremendous efforts of the cast, failing to secure a rich feel of emancipation that should lubricate the resolution. Instead, the movie unwinds gracelessly, distancing itself from its greatest asset: intimacy. The conclusion goes broad to provide suitable punctuation, diluting the steely, often intricate emotional foundation the opening of the picture pours confidently.

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Colin Friels
Director: Fred Schepisi

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