Image B+ Sound A- Extras B
starring Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Matthew Lillard, Diane Kruger
screenplay by Brandon Boyce
directed by Paul McGuigan
by Walter Chaw Paul McGuigan's Wicker Park is all about reflective surfaces. The whole thing casts Chicago (or Montreal, subbing for Chicago in just another slippery deception) as the house of mirrors sequence in The Lady from Shanghai, tempting us to dismiss it as stale noir sauced-up with a fresh spackle of postmodern, commercial/music video glamour. But Wicker Park, based on Gilles Mimouni's L'Appartement, is almost an act of pop art, opening with hunky Josh Hartnett walking the mean streets of the Windy City and shopping for a diamond engagement ring that becomes the prism through which the rest of the film, especially in its more pregnant moments, is seen.
McGuigan employs splitscreen more than Brian DePalma does; mixes in dashes of disconcerting shifts of fields of focus; and presents each of his duplicitous central trio in any number of artificial multiplications. From the start, he has Hartnett trailing himself, looking at himself looking at himself in not one bathroom mirror, but three--two of them magnified vanity mirrors embedded in a wall-sized mirror. By making many of Wicker Park's sequences into a dizzying, kaleidoscopic distortion, McGuigan has taken the purity implied by the diamond-as-lens and undermined it (as his heroes will do) with deception. The only escape is through the purification of the truth, and the picture, for all its outward appearances of cynicism and human reductivism, is, in the end, an extraordinarily hopeful film. Unlike a lot of his peers, McGuigan seems to be using tricks for a unified, discernible purpose.
Matthew (Hartnett) is considering popping the question to girlfriend Rebecca (Jessica Paré) on the eve of being sent overseas on a business trip. At a restaurant to talk it over, he hears the voice of an ex-girlfriend, smells her perfume, and finds an anonymous hotel key left in a folded newspaper. He doesn't go on the trip (and fails to tell his girlfriend), opting instead to obsessively resurrect his old life. First, Matthew renews contact with his forgotten friends and tries to find out why he was left and why Lisa (Diane Kruger) has resurfaced with neither warning nor explanation for her absence. Best friend Luke (a likeable Matthew Lillard) and Luke's girlfriend, Alex (Rose Byrne), constitute an interesting doppelgänger to the Matthew/Lisa pairing, with Alex an actress who obscures herself in all of the interactions that she has with Luke and Matthew (and, eventually, Lisa), and Luke an extraordinarily affable fellow who can't seem to tell the truth about his relationship with Alex.
Deviously complicated--indeed, the stew thickens to the point of immobility if one should ponder that the two female leads of Troy, Kruger and Byrne, are engaged here in a comedy of existential transference--yet told with a sure, visual wit, Wicker Park falls apart at its solution, so eager are McGuigan and his screenwriter Brandon Boyce to make the MacGuffin the point. Until then, however, questions concerning identity and the ways that love can obscure perception and ultimately mold reality float around in the ether like the suggestions of subtext. Wicker Park thus lends itself to inclusion with the backward-gazing films of 2004 (from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Birth) as another thoughtful, challenging look at time travel from the point of view of a person caught in the amber of an emotion and a sequence of events. With its play-within-plays, glittering visual motifs, and fixation on the peculiarities of devotion, the picture is a minor surprise, a potential cult classic, and, in comparison with the French original, a nice example of what happens to a Hitchcock shrine when it's filtered through a slick punk sensibility. There's a fear of ambiguity here that disappoints--but until Ms. Marple calls us all into the study, Wicker Park's a pleasant little mindfuck.
MGM presents Wicker Park on DVD in a sparkling 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Marred by dirt now and again (certainly more than such a new film should be), the image nevertheless serves up the picture's saturated colour palette with a high level of fidelity. No edge enhancement problems or moiré patterns intrude despite the preponderance of complicated patterns. The DD 5.1 audio occasionally spreads dialogue across the front channels and adds depth to the covers-heavy soundtrack (another nod to multiple-reproductions and doubling), but it's a minimal sonic workout all around. Meanwhile, McGuigan joins Hartnett for a feature-length commentary that immediately establishes itself as one of the more worthwhile yakkers in recent memory by demonstrating a level of understanding and intentionality attached to the film's visual and thematic motifs. Hartnett is winning me over and serves as something of an interviewer for the sometimes-reticent McGuigan. As Wicker Park enters its second hour, however, conversation trails off into rote observations about casting and locations and, worse, pensive silence. For as interesting as the film is during the watching, in other words, its revelations are localized to the watching.
Eleven deleted scenes clocking in at a little over fifteen minutes in total prove disposable indeed. They run the gamut from an extended bit with the jeweller going on about nothing in a ridiculous way, an extended following/stalking sequence, more of Alex's art deco presentation of Shakespeare, and a minor deepening of the already adequate relationship between Luke and Matthew. (Bible scholars, incidentally, might find some fruit in comparing the leads to their scriptural counterparts.) A short gag reel (2 mins.) reveals the extent to which Lillard was restraining himself in the film proper, while Hartnett is either really professional or an actor-bot and Byrne demonstrates that she might be good in a screwball farce, if for no other reason than she seems giggly and clumsy. A horrible music video for a soft-techno cover of "Against All Odds" (yes, the Phil Collins song for the Jeff Bridges/Rachel Ward remake of Out of the Past) and a 33-image stills gallery (and the requisite, and misleading, theatrical trailer) round out the film-specific extras. A skippable trailer for When Will I Be Loved precedes the main menu while a really bad "Soundtrack Spot" and bonus trailers for Code 46, Pieces of April, Saved!, Angel of Death, Out of Time cap the disc. It's worth mentioning that the animated menus are lovely and in keeping with the split motif of the film--enough so that it causes one to wonder if McGuigan had something to do with them. Originally published: February 16, 2005.