Roman takes a lukewarm bath with ‘Based on a True Story’
Polanski movie is a pretty feeble attempt at a thriller
“No one cares about fiction any more,” declares Eva Green some way into Based on a True Story, the new film from Roman Polanski. “People are fed up of surprises and clever twists. They want reality!” At this point, you’d happily settle for either. Nothing in this feeble psychological thriller rings true for a moment, though its unhinged machinations feel as pedestrian as soap opera in execution.
How many times, for instance, can one film end a scene with a shot of a door being closed on Green’s looming face? Polanski must set some kind of inviolable world record here, to the point that the actress – perhaps the most consistently compelling loomer we have – starts to look like a Halloween decoration no one remembered to take down.
She co-stars in this tale of a successful but frazzled author, played by Emmanuelle Seigner (the director’s wife), whose life is taken over by a ghost writer – a profession that entails vampirically feeding on someone else's life in print, if not usually the real world too. Delphine Dayrieux (Seigner), on the other hand, finds inspiration only within. Her latest book, a smash hit, is a loosely veiled memoir which casts her family in an unfavourable light, and she becomes increasingly frazzled by promoting it under a cloud of poison-pen letters and social media posts, while simultaneously having to come up with another to match it.Enter Elle (Green), or rather Her, as the English subtitles gratingly call her: it’s short for Hermione, apparently, though the suggestion of anonymity in that play on words would work far better untranslated. Because Her is herself such a seemingly efficient writer, Delphine trusts her to straighten out her own chaotic schedule, which entails handing over access to her e-mail account and, later, the key to her flat, where all her precious notebooks of ideas and memories are held. We’re asked to accept that Delphine would not only go along with this, but also believe that Her could convincingly stand in for her at public appearances with a splash of hair dye and a quick trim, even though the two actresses plainly look nothing alike.
Working from a book by the French novelist Delphine de Vigan, the French director Olivier Assayas wrote the screenplay for Polanski’s film. You can see why Assayas might have been drawn to it – the Persona-like premise of two women in close proximity whose identities start to mix was the basis of his own 2014 film Clouds of Sils Maria. But the material here is as blunt and preposterous as Assayas’s own film was ambiguous and elegant.“You must feel like you’re nude on some road, frozen in a car headlights,” Her suggests to Delphine early on, as the pressure on her mounts – which gives you an idea of how the film will climax, if not precisely how it will get there. This turns out to be via ludicrous jump scares (Green’s face suddenly leaping out of a laptop screen) and bizarre jolts of violence (Green smashing up a food processor with a rolling pin), but none of the psychological detail in dialogue or gesture that might convince you to play along. Polanski’s own 2010 film, The Ghost Writer, based on a Robert Harris novel, did this stuff immeasurably better, and within the framework of a complex political thriller to boot.
It’s not as if this is uncertain territory for the director, either: Polanski’s early career was characterised by this kind of tightly focused chamber meltdown. But compared to the likes of Repulsion (1965), Cul-de-sac (1966) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), this feels like a badly ghostwritten counterfeit.
© The Daily Telegraph