Disgrace (M)

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Review byMatthew Turner4/12/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 118 mins

Engaging, powerful and absorbing drama that doesn't offer any easy answers but exerts a tight grip, thanks to a terrific performance by John Malkovich.

What's it all about?
Directed by Steve Jacobs, Disgrace is based on the Booker Prize-winning post-apartheid novel by J. M. Coetzee and stars John Malkovich as David Lurie, a divorced professor of romantic poetry who's forced to step down after he initiates a rather one-sided affair with a black student (Antoinette Engel), for which he refuses to apologise. Far from feeling guilty or contrite, David takes his sudden unemployment as an excuse to visit his semi-estranged lesbian daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines) on her farm in the country but he's disconcerted to find that her lover has left her and that she's sharing the land with a black worker named Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney).

David's fears that Lucy may not be safe are confirmed after a horrific incident occurs when Petrus is not around. As David struggles to come to terms with Lucy's reaction to what's happened, he's forced to examine both his own character and his relationship to both his country and his daughter.

The Good
John Malkovich is perfectly cast as David; it's hard to imagine any other actor pulling off the scene in which he refuses to apologise to the disciplinary board. It's a fascinating performance, because David is, on the surface, a deeply unsympathetic character and yet Malkovich is utterly compelling throughout.

There's also strong support from newcomer Jessica Haines (who delivers a performance that's equally complex, only in a very different way), Eriq Ebouaney (resisting the expected cliches that might normally accompany his role) and particularly Fiona Press as Bev, a kindly woman who runs an animal welfare clinic.

The Great
The script is excellent, refusing to offer any easy answers or resolutions and completely avoiding the sort of sentimentality you might expect from a father-daughter story. It's also strikingly shot, ensuring that there are scenes, images and ideas that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. That said, the film is occasionally guilty of overdoing the allegorical detail and often wears its literary origins too visibly as a result.

Worth seeing?
Disgrace is a superbly written, impressively directed and brilliantly acted drama that's by no means easy to watch but is nonetheless thought-provoking and powerfully moving. Recommended.

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Content updated: 14/10/2019 17:24

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