**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Bruce Greenwood
screenplay by Guy Ritchie, based on the screenplay by Lina Wertmüller
directed by Guy Ritchie
by Bill Chambers No, it's not a masterpiece, but the deck was already stacked against Guy Ritchie's Swept Away long before anyone saw the picture. That it was a remake (of Lina Wertmüller's squirm-inducing Swept Away... by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August) was strike one; that it starred Madonna, a lousy film actress considered box-office poison, strike two; that Ritchie is married to Madonna, marking Swept Away as the kind of vanity project that power couples make to spend more time together than their private life allows, strike three. And every review you read of Swept Away--that I read, at least--parroted these three strikes, sizing them to fit a column's allotment; there's no doubt in my mind that, even though it became the whipping-boy of late-night talk-show hosts and assured its victory at the 2003 Golden Raspberrys with near-universal placement on year-end worst-of lists, you haven't any meaningful clue as to what's actually wrong with Swept Away.
Madonna plays Amber Leighton, the rich-bitch wife of an entrepreneur (Bruce Greenwood, in an understated turn frankly better than anything he's done in American pictures up 'til now) whose business is chemicals, a profession intended to draw his conservatism in neon lights: Not only does he prove to be a capitalistic pig, but his profit comes from a dangerous-sounding line of products that would be the MacGuffin in any other film, too. The couple, along with a few friends, set sail on an Italian cruise ship bound for Greece. Aboard the vessel, Amber verbally abuses the crew, choosing fisherman Giuseppe Esposito (Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo, star of the Wertmüller film) as her pet project of humiliation. He puts up with the name-calling (Pee-Pee, Guido, and other racist pejoratives) until, through circumstances so contrived they qualify as science-fiction, he is shipwrecked with her on a deserted island. A survivalist, natch, since he is a man of the Mediterranean, Giuseppe turns the tables on his tormentor--who won't get by without his instincts to guide her--once they're well and truly stranded.
Eschewing his clipped, post-modern style for something more, pardon the word, traditional, Ritchie seems humbled by the moral tightrope that Wertmüller's original presents the cover artist in the post-PC age. Ritchie betrays no specialized understanding of capitalism, but he's smart to mention it often, as Swept Away almost gets away with Giuseppe's mortification of Amber (which is far more potent than Amber's of Giuseppe) by filtering it all through the veil of class. There are crumbs of misogyny left behind by Wertmüller's dubious film (given the premise, we'd be suspicious if there weren't), but the 2002 Swept Away is less S&M and more, well, a drama prototypically found on The WB, in which the poor and the wealthy square off but learn to get along. (Wertmüller's Swept Away hinged on tensions between a fascist and a communist. Changing the fascist to a capitalist and the communist to an environmentalist of sorts suggests a less visceral battle of wills, thus placing Ritchie in a good position to tone down the violence against women.) If there's a domination fantasy at play, it's Ritchie subverting his wife's control-freak reputation, though even that is idle torture, as the movie is ultimately about Madonna's essential irresistibility, and at her weakest hour in the picture, Ritchie blesses her with a dance number that restores her allure and iconography.
Madonna gives both the best and worst performance of her career in Swept Away: she has yet to sound authentic in a position of subservience, but she's just shy of fantastic doling out cruelties to Mr. Esposito on the boat, and her silent stares in the finale have a shocking (for Madonna) humanity--it's the only time in the film's second, tanned half that she doesn't resemble petrified wood. Giannini, who's neither as menacing nor as charismatic as his famous father, looks right, somehow, during the obligatory falling-in-love montages--because, perhaps, we're accustomed to watching Madonna cavort with swarthy men in her music videos. There is an image at the end of one of these montages (the best of them, set to Mazzy Star's honey of a love song "Fade Into You") cribbed from the David Fincher video for Madge's "Bad Girl" wherein the two lovebirds float stoically to the sky. Ritchie may not have a novel thought in his head, but he knows how to pose his missus (who wears sunglasses with star-shaped frames in said shot). That alone is more than any credit anyone ever gave him for this stupid film.
Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Swept Away has a number of extras despite the film's notoriety. In his yak-track with producer Matthew Vaughn, Ritchie ducks the negative attention he and his wife received inasmuch as one can, although he confides that he thought Swept Away would go down well with Madonna in the lead--especially with her detractors, as a dislike of the pop chanteuse is sanctioned by the picture's first half. Then again, he also says of Swept Away, "It's very fresh--they don't make films about slapping women anymore," leading the viewer to wonder if he's really got his finger on the pulse. Vaughn and Ritchie return for a selection of sixteen indeed-redundant deleted scenes, their optional comments more jokey ("Who directed Butch Cassidy?" "Ron Jeremy?") than enlightening.
The "Swept Away Movie Special" (20 mins.) parodies the featurette form and functions as a Ritchie Home Movie, with Madonna interviewing Ritchie and vice versa, each question asked with tongue firmly in cheek though lacking in the wit of, say, "The Daily Show"'s faux-investigative journalism. One uncomfortably candid moment finds Ritchie growing jealous during a rehearsal of Giannini groping Madonna, who says to her husband, "What? You wrote it."
Swept Away looks lovely on DVD. Letterboxed at 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays, the bleached-out image is nonetheless lush and tack-sharp--as clear as the Mediterranean, one might say. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix reproduces music with utmost clarity and fullness (the aforementioned Mazzy Star tune sounds as if it's being played live in your home theatre) while bass is reserved for a few licks of literal thunder. Please note that our preview copy, a retail version, left the English subtitles on after every translated line of Italian dialogue, which may be a hardware issue. (I watched the disc on the JVC RX-DV5SL.) Filmographies for Ritchie, Madonna, Giannini, Greenwood, and Jeanne Tripplehorn plus trailers for Swept Away and Snatch round out the disc. Originally published: January 30, 2003.