Saturday, October 03, 2009

Review - Rage

Sally Potter's Rage gathers together an exciting, eclectic cast, and wastes it on a silly and self-indulgent cinematic experiment. The conceit here is that an unseen, unheard character named Michelangelo is attending a fashion event, and interviewing various participants on his mobile phone as part of a school project. The film therefore consists of a series of monologues straight to his camera, in front of garishly coloured backgrounds, and through their unedited speech the characters reveal their insecurities and obsessions as well as exposing the shallow and morally dubious nature of the fashion industry. This is hardly revelatory stuff, though. Potter's jabs at the emptiness of this industry are predictable and tired, and hardly strong enough to sustain a feature-length film. Rage might have worked well enough as a short, but at 95 minutes it feels painfully overextended, with Potter's initially intriguing approach quickly feeling like a tiresome gimmick. The limitations of Potter's setup tell in the second half, when a series of deaths take place off screen – we hear them but we don't see them, because Michelangelo keeps his camera pointed at his subjects – but who would honestly resist turning their camera to where the action is? Surely the era of YouTube and mobile phone video has taught us that our compulsion is to look, not turn away?

Rage ultimately has to offer is a great cast, and some of them do enough to sell this thing as well as they can. Judi Dench's cynical fashion critic and Steve Buscemi's seen-it-all war photographer were highlights for me, and I was also impressed by some of the younger actors on show, notably the Shakespeare-spouting David Oyelowo and Lily Cole, whose extraordinary features were made for close-ups. Most of the actors have moments when they come close to elevating the thin material they have been handed, but by the end of the film it has all just collapsed into one meaningless, incoherent noise. Sally Potter has used Rage to explore the new distribution possibilities that the internet has opened up for low-budget films, but whatever method you choose to watch a movie, the only questions that matters is "Is the film any good?" In this instance, the simultaneous release of Rage in cinemas, on DVD, via the internet and mobile phones simply means there are many more ways to avoid it.