Dir: Julian Goldberger. US. 2006. 112mins.
A meditation on the thin veneer between obsession and madness, it has somesharp visual interludes and neat supporting performances, but it is undone by anoverwrought Method performance from Paul Giamatti that,along with the inert drama, flattens the piece.
Despite the presence of Giamatti, likely Oscarnominee Michelle Williams and the continually interesting Michael Pitt, this Sundancedramatic competition entry is likely to face hurdles in gathering any further play,particularly in theatres. International prospects are likely to be tougher: DVDremains its best bet.
The film recalls The Mosquito Coast(1986), Peter Weir's unsuccessful adaptation of the Paul Theroux novel about perfectionistwho rejects civilisation to create his own utopia, destroying his family and himselfin the process.
Setin the university town of Gainesville, Florida, Goldberger's movie centres on thesocially awkward George (Giamatti) whose passion for falconryfar exceeds his technical mastery of this difficult art.
Georgeowns a car upholstery business, and enjoys a nicely underplayed relationship withhis foreman (Wisdom); lives with his sister, the self-pitying, cruelly named Precious(Schwimmer); and has developed a highly paternal friendshipwith his intellectually diminished nephew, Fred (Pitt).
Heis also - improbably - enjoying a sexual affair with attractive but damaged universitypsychology student Betty (Williams).
Stungby claims in the community that several birds have died due to his mistreatment,George is transformed one morning when his trap system snares a beautiful species,an exquisite and coveted red tail hawk.
Determinedto prove his mettle with his prized capture, George assumes a religious devotionto civilising the hawk, closing himself off to his friends and family.
Buthis obsession turns cruel and bizarre in the painful aftermath of Fred's mysteriousdeath, which in turn is linked to his apparently unconsummated desire for Betty.
Goldbergerhas an interesting, off-beat flair for observation and visual rhyming and The Hawk Is Dying features some strikinglyevocative imagery, particularly when George submerges himself in a lake.
Butthe director needed to apply a stronger, cleaner hand when it came to modulatingGiamatti's work. This is the kind of performance thatfeels as if it is intended to win awards and be labelled "masterful", but whichturns out to be belligerent, bruising and severely off-putting. The resultchokes any emotional identification with his character or real sense of loss anddisruption.
Thescreenplay itself also feels too elusive and under-realised to achieve any coherence.In the crucial encounter between Betty and Fred, for example, Goldbergerwithholds too many crucial details, requiring a level of inference that canonly create audience frustration and confusion.
Visually,The Hawk Is Dying confirmsGoldberger's visual command of the medium. But in straining to capture whatexists beyond our grasp he can only leave his audience hanging.
A Big heart Pictures
Antidoe Films Production
This Is That, Next Wednesday
c/o Epstein, Levinsohn, Bodine,Hurwitz & Weinstein
Mary Jane Skalski
Julian Goldberger from the novel by Harry Crews