Review By: Anthony Eu
Dorian Gray is a re-imagination of the classic Oscar Wilde tale, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Long story short, it’s about an immortal man whose picture deteriorates as he continues with his life of debauchery, vice and sin. While his real life beauty remains, his pictures decays. Art imitates life, as it were. This particular rendition is a melancholy meditation on the dichotomy of good and evil on the human soul.
Sounds heavy? It is.
Ben Barnes plays Dorian Gray. Young, fresh-faced, British and constantly on the cusp of being the next R-Pattz, Barnes does a competent job as the title character. He first burst onto the Hollywood scene as another title character, Prince Caspian from the Narnia series, but never really saw his star reach the heights that it could. Talented and smart enough to take roles that DON’T turn him into Taylor Lautner’s glittery scratching post, one hopes that Barnes’ career will seriously take off. However, this movie probably won’t be the match that sets off this particular firecracker.
The first half of the film sees Dorian being led off the proper path by Lord Henry Wotton, a gentleman with a taste for the despicable. In this case, the devil whispering in Dorian’s ear is played by veteran British thespian Colin Firth of Bridget Jones’ Diary fame. The second half of the film sees Dorian spiraling down his rickety road to ruin where lust, drugs and vanity seek to ruin his life.
The film works in that it manages to tell the basic story: boy comes to London, boy has portrait painted for him by friend, boy meets girl, boy makes a pledge to immortality, youth and beauty by sacrificing beauty of portrait, etc. However, one of the issues of the film is the pace of it. The first half goes painfully slow in terms of significant events but when it comes to the juiciness of Dorian’s corruption, the change is almost instant. One minute, Dorian is a clean-shaven, wealthy young bachelor and in the next, he’s brooding, self-indulgent and treading a very close line between acting and being Vampire #6 in the new Twilight installment. In fact, it was confusing to find the exact point where the portrait went from decent painting to allegorical fountain of youth.
The second half much improves the pace of the first but again falls short of impressive when a new girl is brought into the picture. The film struggles with juggling a gripping story and a drab pace. Luckily, some decent performances from Firth and Rebecca Hall manage to plaster over some of the faults of the script.
Firth and fellow veteran actor Ben Chaplin should be commended for their performances. If Lord Henry plays the whispering devil, then Chaplin’s character, Basil Hallward, plays the desperate
However, a fatal flaw was evident throughout the feature: any shot that involved wide sweeping CGI landscapes were noticeably fake. One shot in particular, a long shot of residential London, looked like an outtake from a Sherlock Holmes cartoon. Yes, it was in 3 dimensions and yes, this is a minor part of the entire film but such an obvious mistake was hard to overlook and made watching the film a distracting debacle at some points.
Overall, it was a decent outing from an experienced cast but, inevitably, it lacked the panache that would really make it a Hollywood feature. The graphics were unimpressive and the pace of the movie really tugged it back from its true potential. The decent acting abilities of the cast tried its very hardest to disguise some of the underlying mistakes but ultimately, it was just trying to cover up the ugly flaws beneath.
A few deleted scenes and a standard audio commentary were a little ho-hum and unimpressive. One surprising addition was a blooper reel, something usually unseen in dramatic films. Finally, a couple of features that highlighted the wardrobe (yay!) but also the visual effects (oh.). Seeing the anatomy of the portrait was kind of interesting but barely worth checking out.