My Cousin Rachel

MyCousinRachel-rev My Cousin Rachel  (2017)    Fox Searchlight/Drama-Thriller    RT: 106 minutes    Rated PG-13 (some sexuality, brief strong language)    Director: Roger Michell    Screenplay: Roger Michell    Music: Rael Jones    Cinematography: Mike Eley    Release date: June 9, 2017 (US)    Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Andrew Knott, Poppy Lee Friar, Katherine Pearce, Andrew Havill.

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 I made a special trip into town today to see My Cousin Rachel; it turns out I’d have been better off staying at home with my dog. This so-called suspense-thriller, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier, is about as interesting as income tax laws. Watching paint dry is a more rewarding form of entertainment. The minutes felt like hours as I fought to stay awake. It moves at roughly the same pace as a glacier. When it was finally over, I couldn’t get out of theater quickly enough. It was still too late, the damage was already done, I wasted an entire afternoon on this turgid, overwrought dud.

 MyCousinRachelIt’s not like My Cousin Rachel was doomed to fail from the start. It had great potential actually. The author also wrote Rebecca which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film by Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve never read the book but I hear great things about it. The movie, which won for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, is a masterpiece. It has a capable director at the helm, Roger Michell (who also wrote the screenplay). It has two fine actors, Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) and Sam Claflin (Me Before You), in the lead roles. The scenery is breathtaking. The pallor of gloom that hovers over the proceedings is palpable. Rarely has so much amounted to so little. It’s scary-amazing how a whole movie can be undone by one thing. Simply put, My Cousin Rachel fails because it’s so boring.

 One of the main characters, Philip (Claflin), serves as the film’s narrator. He’s not a very reliable narrator. His first words- “Did she? Didn’t she? Who’s to blame?”- show uncertainty in regards to the events he’s about to describe. He first tells us about his background, that he was an orphan raised by his adult cousin who lives in a dusty mansion in the English countryside. He’s in some sort of land-based business that involves a large group of scythe-wielding workers. Philip is sent away to school and upon his return (as a young man), learns that his cousin is gravely ill. The cousin is sent to recover in Italy where he’s taken care of by a cousin named Rachel (Weisz). They get married and the cousin dies soon thereafter. Based on a letter he received from his cousin shortly before he passed, Philip blames Rachel for his death. He’s convinced that she killed him.

 A short time later, Rachel comes to visit and Philip plans to have it out with her. That is, until he sees her in the flesh. She’s not the fat, ugly, wooden-legged harridan he imagined. She’s attractive, charming and gracious. In what has to be the fastest 180 I’ve seen outside the racing circuit, he goes from angry avenger to smitten dope. It isn’t long before he gives her access to his money and hands over all his mother’s jewelry to this woman who might be a gold-digging murderer. At the very least, she’s a manipulative, lying bitch who puts on a convincing act that fools everybody around her. Of course, he too falls for her and shortly thereafter, falls ill. Is it mere coincidence? I think not.

 The uncertainty shown by Philip at the start continues right until the very end. SPOILER ALERT! The outcome is inconclusive. We’re never sure if she’s innocent or guilty of the crimes of which she’s accused. I’ll be honest with you; by the end, I didn’t even care. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say there’s definitely something hinky about this woman. She strikes me as the type who could follow somebody in a revolving door and somehow come out first. My Cousin Rachel wants to be suspenseful but it feels more dragged-out than anything else. Plot threads are introduced only to be left dangling. It fails to evoke a genuine sense of menace or danger. It tries to artificially heighten emotions with a heavy-handed score by Rael Jones. Michell’s slack direction certainly doesn’t help. He’s made some good movies in the past- e.g. Notting Hill, Changing Lanes- but he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing here. It’s like he thinks the movie’s artistic merits will make up for its shortcomings. They don’t.

 Claflin is horribly miscast as the protagonist. He comes off as a banal, petulant, truculent wimp with a sense of entitlement. This is very disappointing; Claflin was so good in this spring’s Their Finest. I was also disappointed in Weisz but it’s not entirely her fault. It’s in the way her character is written. She’s presented as an unknowable enigma and stays that way. The problem is that Rachel (the cousin) isn’t all that interesting. I didn’t really care about either one of the main characters. Blame it on the screenplay; it doesn’t give any of the characters anything all that interesting to do. At times, it’s incoherent. For example, I didn’t notice the unspoken attraction between Philip and Louise (Grainger, one of the wicked stepsisters from the live-action Cinderella), the daughter of the lawyer (Glen, Game of Thrones) handing the dead cousin’s estate. There’s also a red herring in the form of an Italian lawyer who Rachel claims is just a friend but is he? My Cousin Rachel might look good and all that; aesthetics- cinematography, costumes and set design- aren’t the problem. Everything else is. But its main problem (and I know I sound like a broken record) is that it’s BORING! The only purpose My Cousin Rachel could possibly serve is a cure for insomnia, one that should only be used in extreme cases. 

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