5 June 1999 | Disty
Intelligent and Enjoyable
Six months ago a tramp was found dead in the garage of the wealthy Amanda Powell. Now journalist Mike Deacon is sent to investigate, and finds only questions: who was the tramp before his life on the streets? Why did he die of starvation next to a freezer full of food? And whatever happened to Amanda's husband, once suspected of fraud and not seen since?
This is a powerful, gripping adaptation, that gets more from its source, a sub-standard Minette Walters mystery novel, than it deserves to. As we are deluged by programmes for which it is more profitable to turn our brains forcefully off, it's refreshing to see something as intelligent and thought-provoking as this. It's aided immensely by dignified and atmospheric direction and music, and a well-written and skilfully structured script.
However, its greatest strength is in the acting. Clive Owen gives a charmingly strong presence to his somewhat stereotypically conceived journalist (full credit to the make-up people for monitoring his stubble as it treads the fine line between sexy and scuzzy) while doing ample justice to his character's pleasingly heavy emotional baggage.
The harder role, however, is that of the mendacious Amanda Powell, whose motives are just as mysterious as Joely Richardson's bizarre mid-Atlantic accent. But somehow she gives this enigmatic character a real sense of personality as she navigates the twists and falsehoods of the script - with us, the audience, perfectly happy where we are: with Mike Deacon, half a step behind...
It's not perfect, though; it can sometimes appear a bit too smart for its own good, and perhaps doesn't really tackle the prevalent issue of homelessness as well as it could have. And it doesn't help that so much of the plot's resolution hinges on that least cinematic of the senses: smell. But it's a classy production, that promises a lot, and even if it doesn't deliver all it could, it still gives more than a lot of stuff you'll see today.