16 September 2013 | Arit
A nice little story that challenges the conventional protagonist vs. antagonist formula
Elizabeth Olsen's latest title role performance is not as showy as her first; when she broke out with "Martha Marcy May Marlene" in 2011, her character's heart and mind were the primary focus of the film. She used her bland looks like the Japanese Noh mask or the Greek Archaic smile, which you could interpret as an expression of any emotion you would like, thus lending mysteries and ambiguities. In "Therese" Olsen goes a lot lighter, allowing us to detach from, or even dislike the apparent protagonist if we choose so.
By contrast, Therese's mother-in-law, Madame Raquin is played by Jessica Lange with a heavy emotional emphasis. Few actresses entertain the idea of playing characters with special physical conditions. Fewer can play them convincingly. Even fewer can play them without words. With Lange they all come as standard. While seemingly playing an antagonist, Lange makes a surprisingly gratifying character.
Tom Felton's frail Camille is Therese's arranged husband, and Oscar Isaac's strong Laurent is Therese's extra-marital affection; these two actors are also solid as they play friends and enemies with polar opposite characteristics.
While by employing a comedic tone director Charlie Stratton takes away some gravity from the serious subject, he nonetheless makes the antique material accessible by wider audience. It is a rather simple story with nothing mysterious about its plot or its characters' feelings and motives, but at the same time, so cleverly ambiguous on the moral ground that you cannot easily decide for which character to root.