The premise, location and cast for this mystery, suspense thriller promises all the elements necessary for a successful box office hit. However this latest directorial piece from Ben Anderson, probably most notable for The Machinist (2004) and Transsiberian (2008), disappointingly fails to deliver.
The film is set at the turn of the 20th Century and, whilst loosely adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether’, details the story of the young Oxford educated doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) and his subsequent visit to the Stonehearst Asylum, whereby he wishes to study the liberal psychiatric practises of Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley). Whilst here, Newgate witnesses the most subverted methods of treating mentally ill patients, which unfortunately only really range from a man who thinks he’s a horse to an elderly woman who refuses to eat. Additionally, he too here meets hysteria patient Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) with whom he falls madly in love with and consequently tries to convince to run away with him. However, things aren’t what they seem at Stonehearst and with the eventual introduction of character Dr. Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine), the narrative suddenly becomes like a constantly overturning coin, changing your perception on who the good and bad guys are.
Therefore, although this film does show potential with a narrative rife in plot twists all the way up until then movie’s end, Joe Gangemi’s screenplay lacks the tautness of a well-executed script. In other words, Gangemi’s nonchalant downplaying of the horror and madness expected in a 19th century mental asylum and equal reluctance in extenuating the eccentricity of his characters makes this film, in my opinion, a poor man’s Shutter Island. Likewise, considering the cast of top British actors whom here I didn’t feel had enough to work with compared to their previous award-winning performances, accompanied by a storyline that could have been made so much more thrilling and mystifying if opportunities were taken during the writing process, equates to an unfortunately disappointing film.
Nevertheless, it would be unfair to diminish the credit of the director by the judgement of the writer. Anderson, therefore, does incorporate some beautiful shots within this film that are rich with colour and fitting to the time period. But, there is only so much a director can do with a poorly accomplished script, which could have been filled with so much more thrilling instances associated with life in a madhouse.
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