Two very different small crime films tackle revenge and betrayal. And viewers would be advised to remember the sage advice of Yankee philosopher Yogi Berra: It’s not over until it’s over.”
In the film Shallow Grave, we are introduced to three Edinburgh flatmates played by Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor. After a rigorous if not insane interview process they decide on a fourth mate to help them pay the rent. The man dies, leaving behind a suitcase full of money. The three, not quite self-less, creatures decide to bury the body and, of course, split the treasure. The problem is the money belongs to someone else. And if the three mates are less than honorable members of society, they are angels compared to the folks coming after the money the dead man had taken from them. Fear and greed make strange flat fellows and the trio’s attempt to escape danger and keep the money makes for a twisting and turning plot. The film, released in 1994, was among the first for McGregor. His work here reminded me a bit of an only slightly restrained Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork Orange.
The Dying Gaul (2005) is downright mean. One might not think so watching this little drama begin to unfold. A little love triangle melodrama perhaps? A successful producer, played by Campbell Scott, who in fact produced the film, wants to buy a screenplay from a young and seemingly principled playwright, portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard. The catch is that the producer wants the play, about two gay men in a long-term relationship, to be rewritten so that the main characters are in a heterosexual marriage. All the playwright needs to do is sell out. Would a million dollars do it? Enter the catalyst, the producer’s wife, played by the incredibly talented Patricia Clarkson. All three characters hit it off. Perhaps a bit too much. The producer, we discover, goes both ways. He seduces the emotionally vulnerable playwright, while the producer’s wife, feeling immense compassion for the tragic life of the young man, attempts in a kind, but deceitful way, to help him through his heart-ache. Both good deeds and bad deeds are punished. Compassion turns to revenge and this tiny slice of life drama turns into a slice of hell.
These are not big films. Geographically, you will go nowhere exciting. There is very little action. There aren’t great, overarching glimpses into human nature that haven’t been seen before. However, they are fine, character-driven short stories and certainly a fascinating, eyebrow raising double feature for a quiet rainy evening.
This is a night for wine, a full-bodied red. Be prepared for some dark humor as well seemingly light story that goes very dark.