30 June 2006 | JaynaB
An unconvincing transition to the screen
If this movie, often described as 'loosely based' on Gail Bowen's book, Murder at the Mendel, was any looser, it would be completely untethered. The main character's name, marital status, and her children are the same. However, the location has been changed from Saskatchewan to Ontario's ultra-expensive cottage country, reflecting the Ontario-centric nature of the Canadian film industry pre-Brokeback rather than any dramatic imperative (although it's possible that the accommodations in Toronto were more to the actors' tastes than anything available near Candle Lake). The artwork that was controversial and intriguing (and provided a possible motive) in the book was dumbed down and valued up; it might have been bought from Ikea's summer collection, with the faces of the actors painted in. An unconvincing subplot of police hostility was abandoned halfway through in favour of a romantic interest that also didn't go anywhere.
The heroine's old back story and new profession have been unsuccessfully. Even Wendy Crewson can't make a convincing portrait of a widow who is at the same time a hard-nosed ex-cop calmly investigating a murder, a professor mining her personal life for teachable material, and an emotional wreck having flashbacks, suffering the stings of bitter widowhood and coping with not only a houseguest from hell but also with teenagers whose growing pains from the first several books were all dragged into one over-crowded storyline. It's not that real people don't have all that going on sometimes, but they're not also trying to solve other people's cases at the same time. They're numbly going through their day, trying to keep all the balls in motion. It was rather like watching two (or more) separate scripts that were accidentally mingled in the editing suite, clips of the same talented actress playing two separate roles.
The good bits: the flashback sequences have a lovely eerie quality, due in part to the actors and in part to the camera work. The use of light was amazing. The two lead actresses put in stellar performances. There's a plethora of suspects with credible motives. You might well enjoy this mystery on an idle evening if you've never read the book or anything else by this author and don't know how compelling the original plot was.