September 2nd, 2004
“Wicker Park” is an atmospheric production in search of good material. A remake of a 1996 French thriller, the characters and the story have been watered down for American consumption, leaving chilly photography and a revelatory performance from actress Rose Byrne the only bright spots in this dreary creation.
Matthew (Josh Hartnett) is a young investment banker on the verge of traveling overseas to China to close a business deal. The night before he leaves, he spies a long lost love, Lisa (Diane Kruger, “Troy), at a local restaurant, and reenters a cycle of obsession and regret that he left behind years earlier. In his numerous failed attempts to reconnect with his old flame, he meets another Lisa (Rose Byrne, also of “Troy” fame), who is desperate to win his affections, leading Matthew to wonder how this woman entered his life at just the right moment.
“Wicker Park” is not exactly the mind-bending thriller its marketing suggests, or even what it flat-out wants to be at times. It’s a softer portrait of mental instability, and a revenge picture mixed with Splenda instead of Jack Daniels. This hurts the film as much as it helps it, but regardless, “Wicker” isn’t a terribly remarkable picture any way you look at it.
“Wicker” is a remake of the 1996 French film, “L’ Appartement,” which starred Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci (the Italian restaurant in “Wicker” is named after her). What was once a weirdo Frenchified puzzler about the aching inner struggle of desire, has been turned ever so slightly into a mediocre Josh Hartnett vehicle, aimed to melt the hearts of emo girls everywhere, backed occasionally by the music of Coldplay. The source material has been defanged, which is really a shame. Even worse, nobody told director Paul McGuigan that he wasn’t making a psychological thriller, leaving the end product even more disjointed than the time-jumping narrative.
The screenplay is all over the map, mucking with time and character to such a degree that it becomes pointless to figure out where the films stands at any given moment. McGuigan has a great vision for mood, coating the film with a dusting of snow, and backing the drama with an interesting range of musical acts and ethereal cues. “Wicker” is best as a story of lost love and the sweaty determination to reclaim it. But McGuigan is determined to corner tightly with the French film, strangely maintaining that it could turn into “Fatal Attraction Part Deux” at any moment. However, that critical moment never comes, as if the picture is ramping up for a massive fireworks display and instead simply ends with a sparkler. A nice, sweet idea, but not for this film, which leans heavily on the paranoia genre, promising great delights that fail to arrive.
It’s tough to blame the actors for any of the damage found in “Wicker,” mostly because of the rampant evidence of studio tampering found in the film to bring the rating down to an “O.C.” crowd rating of PG-13. It’s great to see Josh Hartnett in an adult role that isn’t over his head, like last summer’s “Hollywood Homicide,” but horrific to see McGuigan pair him with Matthew Lillard (in full obnoxious mode here) as his friend and the film’s only (doh!) comedic relief. They cancel each other out. The brightest star on display in “Wicker” is Rose Byrne, who is blessed with such an expressive face, crucial to her role as the slightly tweaked Lisa. Byrne’s performance is hurt by the destructive, seemingly last minute reediting of the film, which replaces her character’s punch with a pillow. However, the raw materials are here, and she illuminates the screen with her presence in this reasonable, but ultimately confusing and mopey film.
My rating: C