Thursday, December 07, 2006

Movie Review: "The Fountain"

Starring Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Official Web site

Having nurtured “The Fountain” on an arduous and sometimes painful process to completion, director Darren Aronofsky’s creation is neither as good or as bad as it had the potential to be.

To be sure, there could be no absolute way for Aronofsky to craft a script that has three different narratives spanning 1,000 years without leaving some people behind. It’s obvious a few minutes into its running time that “The Fountain” has no interest or intent on telling a straightforward story. Freely jumping between centuries, the storylines involve a 16th century Spanish conquistador (Hugh Jackman), a modern day surgeon (Jackman) and a 26th century astronaut (Jackman again). The common quest for all of his characters is the desire for eternal life.

As Tomas, the conquistador, seeks the Fountain of Youth at the request of Queen Isabella (Rachel Weisz), Tommy Creo, the neurosurgeon, desperately researches ways to shrink tumors. Both quests have an urgency behind them, as the queen’s enemies are gathering strength against her, while Tommy’s wife, Isabel (Weisz), suffers from an aggressive brain tumor. The futuristic portion of the script is the least developed, and ultimately, least satisfactory segment of the film. It portrays a bald Tom (not a good look for Jackman, by the way) as a knowledge seeker floating through space with the apparently dying Tree of Life and the ghost of Isabel keeping him company.

The non-linear format of the movie is at times an effective device, yet can also be frustrating. It allows the viewer to draw parallels between the narratives, such as the power of love and the overwhelming desire to stave off death. But as the film swiftly jumps between the centuries, it keeps you at a distance from most of the action and characters on screen.

Only the strong and passionate love that Tommy and Isabel share in the present day story clearly resonates. Some of that credit definitely has to go to Jackman and Weisz, who craft a believable relationship that only one believes is coming to an end on a physical level.

Essentially seeking a cure to save the life of his beloved, Tommy finds himself conflicted over spending time with Isabel and following through on groundbreaking research experiments. He pushes himself to his emotional limits, trying to maintain a brave front for his wife. But his fear of losing her is barely contained below the surface. Jackman, who most audiences know as Wolverine from the “X-Men” films, gives a brave and audacious trio of performances that gives the film most of its emotional weight.

Aronofsky is also aided by outstanding work from cinematographer Matthew Libatique and the production design crew, as lighting and inventive camera work captures memorable images on what was a fairly modest budget, by today’s movie standards. Not that Aronofsky hasn’t had practice with making the most out of smaller budgets, with “Pi” and especially “Requiem for a Dream” examples of making the most out of limited resources.

Having been blown away by the power of “Requiem for a Dream,” when seeing it several years ago, I was eagerly looking forward to what Aronofsky next had in store. While “The Fountain” doesn’t quite live up to the expectations that many will have built up, it certainly can be called a daring piece of work. It has passion and desire coursing through it, but is simply not quite the sum of its parts.

Still, it’s a challenging film that demonstrates the desire of a filmmaker to continue following his own path. Whether the uneven invention on display in “The Fountain” can be considered a good thing likely best lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some
sensuality and language.)

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