September 11, 2007

MOVIES: The Invasion (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2007)

Let's say you're gonna make yet another version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and one of your central plot points is that in order to avoid detection by the pod people, your heroine is obliged to suppress her emotions, because the pod people are emotionless and if they see her laugh or cry, they'll know she's not the pod person she's pretending to be.

So, it would make sense that you would cast an actress whose screen presence tends to be emotionally open, someone who laughs and cries easily, so that there is some tension generated during the "pretending not to be emotional" section of the movie, some suspense as to whether our heroine will succeed. Julia Roberts might be good, for instance, or Drew Barrymore.

It would be a bad idea, you might think, to cast an actress who tends to be on the cold and emotionless side to begin with. It would be a very bad idea, for instance, to cast a chilly ice queen like Nicole Kidman. But by golly, here's Nicole Kidman starring in Oliver Hirschbiegel's The Invasion, the fourth film based on Jack Finney's classic novel.

To make matters worse, we have Daniel Craig as Kidman's sidekick/love interest; he's almost as bizarre a casting choice for this story as she is. There are some nice supporting turns -- the always reliable Jeffrey Wright brings great warmth to the role of the scientist who figures out what's going on (and hey! the black guy gets to live to the end of the movie!), and Veronica Cartwright (who starred in the 1978 version of the story) is effectively jittery and panicked as one of Kidman's patients, a woman who's convinced that her husband has changed somehow.

But Kidman is so disastrously wrong for her role that even if everything else had been brilliant (it's not), the movie couldn't possibly work with her at its core. There is no distinguishing between the happy pre-invasion Kidman, the hiding-her-fear Kidman we see during the invasion, and the relieved post-invasion Kidman; they're all the same glossy emotionless zombie; she's a pod person from the first scene.

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