Dir: J Blakeson. UK. 2009. 98 mins.
Kidnappings rarely go off without a hitch – especially in the movies – but The Disappearance Of Alice Creed finds inventive new ways to approach the perfect-crime-gone-wrong genre. In his feature debut, writer-director J Blakeson has concocted a grimy, twisty tale that occasionally pushes plausibility but is buoyed by three strong central performances.
Cult status would seem to be firmly within this film’s grasp
Starring Eddie Marsan (Hancock,Happy-Go-Lucky), The Disappearance…will appeal largely to aficionados of grungy thrillers full of double-crosses and battles of wit. Cult status would appear to be firmly in this film’s grasp.
Criminals Vic (Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston) kidnap Alice (Gemma Arterton), a young woman from a rich family. Tying her to a bed and gagging her, the two men prepare to negotiate a lucrative ransom from her father and flee the country. But while mastermind Vic is fully confident that their plan will succeed, Danny’s niggling misgivings suggest that he’s either losing his nerve or is hiding something from his partner.
Blakeson’s first feature recalls another British debut, Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave, in that both thrillers derive much of their pleasure from the sharp interplay of their leads and the escalating scheming that goes on between them. The audience knows that Vic and Danny’s plan will encounter major difficulties, but the enjoyment comes in watching precisely how the complications realign the balance of power between the three participants.
The filmmaker stages most of the action in a two-room apartment, creating a pleasingly claustrophobic tone from the outset. Additionally, we learn nothing about the characters before the kidnapping, which allows Blakeson to drop hints about their personalities and then surprise us by revealing conflicting information about them. Without giving away important plot points, the criminals and the victim all tug at our sympathies and push at our loyalties until the roles of “good guys” and “bad guys” begin to get provocatively cloudy.
Because The Disappearance… operates at such close quarters over a short period of time, the power struggles and changes of heart that go on between the characters always need to feel organic, and sadly Blakeson doesn’t always hit home on this front, creating a few unbelievable moments. Although he has created three plausibly ordinary individuals, there are times when he has them behave stupidly so as to increase the story’s stakes and tension, a lazy short cut for a film that otherwise emphasises its smarts, including crafty editing and a meticulously seedy look.
The Disappearanceis more of a verbal battle than a physical one, preferring barbed dialogue to clichéd gunplay. This, of course, requires relatable performances, and all three leads do strong work. Compston nails Danny’s slippery desperation, making it impossible to ever know when he’s telling the truth. Arterton mostly just has to be terrified in the film’s early going, but she demonstrates her character’s steeliness in due time. The best of the bunch is Marsan, who plays Vic as a ruthless villain until, unexpectedly and quite convincingly, something changes within him.
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