19 August 2002 | espineli
A breathtaking adaptation except for one thing...
I went to watch the movie with a little trepidation...after all, I've had images of these characters in my head for years...but I also went with much excitement, as I have been waiting for this movie to come for some time now.
First of all, Neil LaBute captured the snobbery of the whole academic scene very well, albeit very briefly. However, the British characters make so much comment about the fact that he's an American, that it borders on the ridiculous. Most of the actual British people I've met actually like Americans, and although they make the occasional joke about them, they don't carry on like the academicians in the movie. The point I am making is that the other characters seem to emphasize Roland's brashness so much that Roland doesn't even have a chance to show what he's truly made of, why he's there working with Professor Blackadder, over any dozens of other graduate students (British or not) who could have had his place.
Much has been said about making the character of Roland an American. Actually, I think that the choice of bringing an American into the academic mix not only changes this from something more suited to "Masterpiece Theatre" TV to something worthy of the big screen. Roland is the outsider in the book, a lower-class Brit, but he is also someone who harbors poetic aspirations and more passion for his chosen subject (Ash) than any of his colleagues. The fact that he is an American in the movie helps to emphasize his outsider identity. But the audience is never truly shown this at all in the movie.
This is the true misstep of the movie (and I have a feeling that perhaps some of it is on the cutting room floor): Roland's character is so underdeveloped in the movie that anyone coming to the movie without having read the book cannot help but feel he is a "fish-out-of-water." Sure, they have scenes of Roland reading a book of Ash poetry and a brief flash of Roland writing poetry in a notebook. But the latter scene seemed to exist only for Gwyneth Paltrow's character (Maud Bailey) to have another opportunity to make fun of Roland, and not to help reveal any sort of depth to his character.
As a fan of the book, I did enjoy the movie after all. The Victorian scenes were especially beautiful and I loved the seamless cutting between past and present in the same spaces, the same rooms. Since my only misgiving is that it was too short, I feel that LaBute was successful in his adaptation...I guess I will have to look to the DVD to see if he had intended to flesh out Roland's character more. Unfortunately, Roland is never even given a chance to show what he's made of, except for the fact that he steals a letter from a book -- the catalyst of both the movie and the book. His "American-ness" in this case -- his boldness and his guile -- is a good thing. It's just too bad that we don't see more of why he likes Ash so much and what really motivates him to take up the literary chase with Maud...and this is why I would recommend to anyone who's enjoyed the movie that they should read the book...it will amaze you how much LaBute managed to keep in, and it will astound you to become more acquainted with the quadrangle of characters and their individual passions and motivations.