FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

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FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

Let’s deal with the leather bound elephant in the red room of pain right away. Fifty Shades of Grey is not a sexy film… at all. Anyone expecting titillation from mildly debauched, unspoken-in-polite-society sexual activity will be disappointed; unless your particular tastes include copious shots of vehicles produced by a well-known German car manufacturer with four rings as their logo. If that is the case you’re in good hands - just remember the safe word.

So if not a sexy film then what is it? Well, for the most part it is a reasonably functional thriller that fades into blandness when the sexual element is introduced. As you would expect, and for anyone unaware, the premise is excruciatingly simple. Literature student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) fills in for a sick friend by interviewing handsome billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the university paper. As they circle each other warily while their irresistible connection deepens, certain rules must be established.

The first half sets up Fifty Shades as a thriller, reminiscent in some ways to a slightly saccharine version of Basic Instinct. There are clearly secrets and murky motives but nothing quite as murderous as in Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 classic. In director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film, the extent of the depravity is a little light bondage that on screen appears neither shocking nor at all pain inducing. After all the hype that Mr. Grey is a man with a penchant for the sado-masochistic, a spot of slap and tickle is somewhat, well, disappointing.

Perhaps the reason stems from the director herself. The Mr. Grey of the books is depicted as much more controlling than in the film, and Anastasia more passive. Taylor-Johnson’s version has the heroine to the fore, being stronger and meeting her “opponent” on equal terms. While this is acceptable and appropriate from a modern viewpoint the edginess that makes the books what they are is lost and without the darker element their relationship feels too sterilised. Johnson’s performance does impress in a role that is more akin to a traditional leading lady, and the changes have been of benefit, allowing her to give Anastasia some steel (pun intended). In the same way they have hindered Dornan. At no point does he really convince as the tormented torturer, and despite hints at formative events in his teenage years there is no real depth to the character. Instead the performance feels just that; a shallow performance with style very much over substance.

There is another strand to Fifty Shades though. On some levels the second half carries all the hallmarks of a sexploitation film, or at least the more artistic entrants in the genre. The second half of the film is set up more like a montage of sexual acts than a traditional narrative, with constant shots of both actors’ nipples. Once again the initial problem arises. Fifty Shades isn’t sexy enough and the last thirty minutes or so feel like an extended trailer for a soft porn film; lots of insinuation that slowly becomes increasingly tedious.

To Taylor-Johnson’s credit, you get the impression she has made the best film possible given the base material. The dialogue has received a great deal of criticism for being unspeakably clunky but while it is at times laughable, it does at least add some amusing interest. Technically the film is well made and looks as polished as some of Mr. Grey’s curious looking equipment, but while this covers up some minor scratches it cannot fill the cracks that inevitably appear.

Fifty Shades of Grey is interesting in parts, but is nowhere near as controversial or shocking as it should be. Go and find Basic Instinct and watch that again instead.

Special Features: Six featurettes / Making of / Cast profiles

INFO: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: SAM TAYLOR-JOHNSON / SCREENPLAY: KELLY MARCEL / STARRING: DAKOTA JOHNSON, JAMIE DORNAN, JENNIFER EHLE, ELOISE MUMFORD, MARCIA GAY HARDEN / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 22ND

 


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