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Film Reviews: Eileen & The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan

Arts Review2023-12-8By: Marc Glassman

 

Transforming Novels into Absorbing Films

Eileen & The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan

By Marc Glassman

 

Eileen

William Oldroyd, director

Luke Goebel & Ottessa Moshfegh, script, based on her novel.

Starring: Thomasin McKenzie (Eileen Dunlop), Anne Hathaway (Rebecca), Shea Whigham (Jim Dunlop), Marin Ireland (Rita Polk), Sam Nivola (Lee Polk), Owen Teague (Randy)

 

Strange but compelling, Eileen is a dark character study of a young woman trapped in a dead-end job, stuck in her role as a dutiful daughter taking care of her alcoholic father. Set in the winter of 1964 in a working-class Massachusetts small town, the film features Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) who is well respected because her dad, Jim (Shea Whigham), was a cop and, even if he’s fallen on bad times, the conservative community appreciates that she has sacrificed herself for him. 

When the film begins, Eileen is stifled sexually and emotionally, working at the local prison surrounded by older women doing administrative tasks, who hate their jobs, and hardened officers who brutalize the inmates. Then, Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), enters her life as the new counselor, who has been brought in from a near-by Ivy League university to inspire the prisoners and, it turns out, Eileen. Glamorous, blonde and beautiful, Rebecca is beyond anything Eileen has ever dreamed of becoming and, yet the counselor not only enjoys her but asks her out—supposedly as a friend—to show her what life is like in their Massachusetts town. 

The film takes a decidedly unexpected turn when Rebecca and Eileen defy expectations, getting drunk, dancing and flirting with each other at the dingy local bar. Rebecca is a lesbian, Eileen quickly realizes, and neither of the women is scandalized by having a drunken kiss. The next day, Eileen is hung over, fights with her dad—clearly their relationship is awful—and when she gets to work, discovers that Rebecca has left for the winter holidays. Or so we all think. Eileen is clearly bereft until she gets a phone call from Rebecca, asking her to come for Christmas dinner. 

It’s at this point, when Eileen evolves into a psychological thriller as the two force Rita Polk (Marin Ireland) into admitting that her son, one of Rebecca’s first patients at the prison, killed his father because he’d been sexually abused since he was a child. The repressed anger and deceit of a New England small town, with its frustrations and humiliations, is played out in Polk’s story, which resonates with Eileen, leading to tragic consequences. 

Eileen is based on an award-winning novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, who adapted it to the screen with her husband, Luke Goebel; the two co-produced the film with director William Oldroyd in what is clearly a personal project. They’ve attracted superb actors, all of whom give their best to this odd Indie project. Veteran character actor Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire, Gaslight) is brilliant at playing hard-nosed tough guys who aren’t as good as they think; the part of the drunk ex-cop is perfect for him. Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, The Devil Wears Prada) is a superstar and it’s clearly a coup that the producers were able to snag her for the pivotal role of Rebecca. Hathaway is so versatile—she can sing, emote, be comic or tragic—but even for her, Rebecca is a departure: she’s breezy, dominant, professionally caring but manipulative personally. Every scene with her is first-rate.

Thomasin McKenzie hasn’t become a household name yet, but it’s bound to happen. The New Zealand born actor made a splash as the hidden Jewish girl in JoJo Rabbit and was the lead in the dark British thriller Last Night in Soho. McKenzie is brave; as an actor, she seems to have no boundaries, which makes her perfect for a film, where she plays a young woman, who must go to dark places in several scenes. The big revelation, and perhaps the best reason to see Eileen, is Marin Ireland, who has one scene as the victimized Rita Polk and transforms the whole film into a tragedy with her devastating performance. Ireland will never be a star but when she’s given a chance, she has the range and depth to make a part memorable—and she does so here.

Eileen isn’t a perfect film by a long shot. Its greatest virtue may contain its most grievous fault: it is too literary. The author clearly wanted to make her story quite ambiguous, but it ends up feeling a bit vague. Who is Eileen and why do we care about her? The film never provides the answer but there are extraordinary scenes that make Eileen worthy of recommendation to those who enjoy serious films. Not perfect, but certainly memorable. 

 

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan

Martin Bourboulon, director

Mathieu Delaporte & Alexandre de La Patelliere, script based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas

Dimitri Rassam, producer

Starring: Francois Civil (D’Artagnan), Vincent Cassel (Athos), Romain Duris (Aramis), Pio Marmais (Porthos), Eva Green (Milady de Winter), Lyna Khoudri (Constance Bonacieux), Louis Garrel (King Louis XIII), Vicky Krieps (Queen Anne of Austria), Eric Ruf (Cardinal Richelieu), Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (Duke of Buckingham), Dominique Valadié (Marie de Medicis)

 

It’s been quite a while since any producer has dared to make a big budget swashbuckler in this film era of comic-book heroes and science fiction epics.  Kudos to Dimitri Rassam, a member through marriage of the Monaco royal family, and a prolific film producer, clearly on the rise. He’s put together an old-fashioned lusty adventure tale, with a budget of $78 million U.S., starring a cast that includes Vincent Cassel, Eva Green, Vicky Krieps, Louis Garrel and other name actors, who have real currency on the Continent, where the film was a hit earlier in the year. 

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan is part one of a two-parter that recounts the story of four noble swordsmen who fight for their honour and King in 17th century France. It’s based on the perennial best-seller by Alexandre Dumas, whose complex yet thrilling story has captivated millions since it was published in 1844. The book is beloved because it mixes action, romance, friendship, intrigue, betrayal, and passion with enough genuine religious and political history to make all of the fun seem significant. 

The tale starts off with an always intriguing storyline: we follow an impulsive young man from the provinces as he learns about life and love in the big city. Young D’Artagnan is a naïve country boy, skilled with the sword, but untrained in the ways of the world, who comes to Paris to join the Musketeers of the Guard. In less than an hour, he manages to anger three great swordsmen, who separately challenge him to a duel. When D’Artagnan shows up for his first encounter with the aristocratic Athos, he discovers that his noble opponent has brought along two seconds, the sturdy and funny Porthos and the more reserved, handsome Aramis. They are, naturally, his other two adversaries—and if that isn’t great storytelling, I don’t know what is. 

Before the first duel can occur, Cardinal Richelieu’s men come to stop them—by death, if necessary—as it’s against the law to fight each other. The three musketeers—Athos, Porthos and Aramis—unofficially become four as D’Artagnan joins in the fight against Richelieu’s men. Quickly, they become involved in court intrigue as Cardinal Richelieu wants King Louis XIII (married to the Catholic Anne of Austria) to start another religious war against the Huguenots (French Protestants), which goes against peaceful royal wishes. Complications ensue as the musketeers become enmeshed in saving the Queen from Richelieu’s attempts to alienate the regal couple by proving that Anne is in love with the British Protestant Duke of Buckingham. 

Dumas and his audience love a complicated plot, and few are as compulsively watchable (and readable) as The Three Musketeers. D’Artagnan falls in love with Constance, one of Anne’s coterie of attendants, and along with his swordsman friends, will do anything to help her. This leads to a brilliant sequence of events that involves getting Anne’s royal jewels back from the Duke of Buckingham before Louis finds out. Opposing D’Artagnan and the rest of the musketeers, particularly Athos, is Milady, a beautiful murderous figure who works with Richelieu. The audience (assuming some haven’t read the book) will find out much more about Milady in the sequel, which is coming out in France next week. 

Director Martin Bourboulon and his team have spent Rassam’s budget wisely, skillfully evoking 17th century France. The production and costume design are superb throughout and the crew was allowed to film in parts of the Louvre and famous castles in Fontainebleau, Chantilly and Saint-Germaine-en-Laye, giving the film an air of authenticity. You feel as if you’re part of the glamour and the muck of an age, which is long gone by while watching The Three Musketeers

In a fast-paced film, not every actor has a chance to have a stand-out scene or two. Here, the actors who are allowed to dominate, and do so with great skill and charisma, are Vincent Cassell as the noble tragic Athos, Vicky Krieps as the conflicted romantic Queen Anne and, above all, Eva Green, who is terrific as the manipulative beautiful Milady. If there’s any casting problem at all, it might be with the handsome Francois Civil, who is fine as D’Artagnan but doesn’t dominate scenes in a way that one would love him to do. But perhaps, he’ll do more in the sequel, when he’ll have more of a reason to emote.

In case you’ve missed it, I loved Dumas as a kid. The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were two favourites and I recall reading others like The Black Tulip when I was just becoming an adolescent. The now recognized fact that Dumas was mixed-race in origin resonates with a growing urban population. It’s great to see him remain as a truly popular author. As for The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan, it is a vivid, engrossing telling of the classic novel. It may be old-fashioned entertainment, but what’s wrong with that?

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