Sunday, May 22, 2011

Film Review: Jane Eyre [2011] (**)

I have a very serious problem with costume dramas, in that most of them cause me to hate the very soul of England's history. Some of them have occasionally worked for me, like Joe Wright's 2007 film Atonement, but more often they are coldly executed with barely an inch of flair or liveliness. I had hoped that Jane Eyre would not be something like that. The trailers put forth the idea that it would be a passionate piece starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, two actors whom I respect very deeply. As I settled into the start of the film, I came to terms with the fact that this wasn't the case.

The film follows the painful and depressing life of Jane Eyre, whose life is put in disarray through the cruelty of cousin and aunt. She's sent off to a cruel school where she is punished and scorned for no real reason. Case in point, she drops her tray one day, and is then shunned by the rest of the school, all except one kind girl, obviously. The depressing atmosphere of her situation is overly infectious, and it's impossible to be entertained or impressed with the film. As she gets older, she leaves the school in favor of life as a governess at Thornfield, a mansion owned by the mysterious and powerful Edward Fairfax Rochester.

As soon as Michael Fassbender comes onto the scene, the film gains a new vibrancy that kept me from leaving the theater before the film ran out. Fassbender's portrayal has such a charisma and semi-develish draw to it. Some of that, thankfully, rubs off on Wasikowska who, up until this point, had been uncharacteristically dull and boring. When Fassbender arrives, he brings out a certain spark in Wasikowska that she was lacking otherwise. The chemistry wasn't quite there, but they did work off of each other.

As you might have guessed from the trailers, Mr. Rochester has a dark secret, but we don't really care about that before or after it happens. The film is rather intriguing and entrancing in the middle when Jane Eyre is getting to know Rochester, with the light of fire reflecting better with the film's tone than the light blues and dull grays. However, as things head towards the third act of the film, it stops being dull or entrancing, and is instead just plain silly. The developments that occur in the finale half hour strain credulity, and they don't even offer us the satisfaction of laughing at the film's expense.

As great as Michael Fassbender is, he is weighed down by the sheer ridiculousness of the plot. The cast as a whole is weighed down by the highly deliberate script and straight-forward execution. Director Cary Fukunaga seems too set on making this a spooky and eerie film than one that makes sense. There are hints at the secret revealed towards the end that perhaps ring better with followup viewings, but I wouldn't want to sit through this film a second time. The cinematography is only occasionally beautiful and staggering, while at all other times it is only attempting to be. Jane Eyre ends up as an indecisive and inconsistent piece of filmmaking that never lets the audience feel comfortable.



  1. Out of curiousity, did you read the book? It sounds like they got the tone right and if you did you could've been prepared for how the film would be like.

  2. I have read the book, but the film just never knew quite what it wanted to be. I thought that Wasikowska and Fassbender was all I needed. It appears I was wrong.

  3. Huh, now I know to at least rent it instead of paying full price.