Time Out rating:
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Time Out says
Tue Aug 5 2008Men grow old, but do they really ever grow up? That’s the question posed by this astute adaptation of Philip Roth’s ‘The Dying Animal’, in which Ben Kingsley’s suave professor and all-round cultural guru preys on his female class members, but only after they’ve finished their courses with him so as to avoid harassment suits. While businesswoman Patricia Clarkson offers regular sexual companionship, the latest notch on this divorcee’s bed post is graduate student Penélope Cruz, whose beauty leaves him acting like a jealous teenager… not exactly what she’s expecting from the relationship.
Spanish director Isabel Coixet provides elegant Ivy League settings, but what’s most striking is the way she takes a male-dominated story about unashamedly sexist attitudes and turns it on its head to show textbook intellectual Kingsley undone by his underdeveloped emotional insights. Kingsley’s performance does better by the character’s self-satisfied over-confidence than the pain of unexpected vulnerability (in contrast to a less showy but telling turn from academic colleague Dennis Hopper, piercing in its resignation), yet it’s Cruz who’s the fulcrum of the piece.
Credible as an impressionable student under her tutor’s sway, she’s also a complex, exposed presence prompting both Kingsley (and, by extension, the audience) to look beyond the alluring surface and see the multi-faceted individual within. Overall, though, the film falls just short, due in no small part to unimaginative music selections (the same old Erik Satie and Arvo Pärt piano pieces again), which drain its individuality in favour of mere generic arthouse melancholia.
Author: Trevor Johnston