out of Five
Running time: 120
Engaging and pleasingly old-fashioned Australian drama enlivened by a trio of terrific performances from Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis, though it doesn't quite deliver the required emotional punch.
What's it all about?
Directed by Fred Schepisi (his first film in over a decade), The Eye of the Storm is based on the Nobel Prize-winning Australian novel by Patrick White and stars Charlotte Rampling as wealthy, dying matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, who summons her two grown children – respected ex-pat theatre actor Sir Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and his sister Dorothy (Judy Davis), whose divorce from French royalty has left her with the title of Princess de Lascabanes - back to their childhood mansion home, apparently intent on making them squabble over their inheritance.
With Elizabeth proving as manipulative as ever, Basil seeks solace in the arms of Flora (Alexandra Schepisi, the director's daughter), one of his mother's live-in nurses, who's not above some scheming of her own. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has increasing trouble distinguishing between the past and the present and continually flashes back to a key incident in her past that was the final straw in her relationship with Dorothy.
Rampling is terrific as Elizabeth, imbuing even her own death with a sense of theatricality and refusing to succumb to the traditional deathbed reconciliations; indeed, she's just as horrible to her children as she's always been. Rush is equally good at Basil and there's a very clear sense of just how his relationship with his mother has screwed up all his subsequent relationships with women (a clear indication is his deluded belief that Flora represents something ‘real’, whereas she's clearly in it for her own reasons).
Similarly, national treasure Judy Davis is excellent as Dorothy and her storyline is the film's most emotionally engaging element. Her character has also been screwed up by her relationship with her mother and again, it shows; she has an excruciating failed seduction scene that's played out with just gestures and looks and is one of the film's best moments. There's also strong support from both Schepisi (who adds an element of much needed humour to the film) and Helen Morse as Lotte, Elizabeth's loyal housekeeper, who keeps her mistress entertained with re-enactments of German cabaret numbers.
The main problem with the film is that it's almost impossible to feel any sympathy for Elizabeth, since even her ostensible acts of kindness (e.g. asking her house staff to choose items of jewellery) are calculated and manipulative (she shuts one nurse out of being able to choose and also knows that what she's doing will upset her children). On top of that, the climax is disappointing and lacks the desired emotional impact, while Basil's voiceover (although ultimately justified) seems inconsequential and overly pretentious.
The Eye of the Storm is an engaging Australian drama that's worth seeing for a trio of terrific performances from Rampling, Rush and Davis.
The Eye Of The Storm (15)