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The Event (2003)

by on 2012/12/30

The Event (2003)

“Always leave the party while you’re still having a good time.”

* * *

Of course, one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Nonetheless, when I unwrapped The Event, I immediately formed an impression — of discotheques, of pill-popping, of glittering, colourful slickness — an impression which couldn’t have been farther from the eventual experience.

Although this film features Sarah Polley, it’s not at all like her rave-cultured Go. It’s more a gritty look at a family coping with sickness. You can’t fault anyone for trying, but there’s little to celebrate here.

Set in the Chelsea District of New York, between Union and Times Squares, the story attempts to fuse aspects of Citizen Kane and Rashomon into a prismatic skip through time. Against a backdrop of gay subculture, Assistant District Attorney Nicole DeVivo (Dazed and Confused’s Parker Posey) is assigned to investigate the death of Matthew Shapiro (When Night Is Falling’s Don McKellar).

She works her way through a sprawling ensemble including Brent Carver, Lucy DeCoutere (Trailer Park Boys), Olympia Dukakis (Away from Her), Jane Leeves (Frasier), and Cynthia Preston (Whale Music). Bit by bit, she slowly — very slowly — pieces together a portrait of Matt’s recent life, the reason for his death, and the possible involvement of foul play.

Nobody is remotely fussed about front-loading unpleasantness. From unsympathetic characters, to the visceral world of a hospice, the cast and crew seem ready to filter viewers out right from the start. There’s no gradual investment to hook you for what’s to come, just shocks upfront, and then myriad details.

Their motivations are a mixed bag, often too little too late. Eventually some redeem themselves, either through plot revelations or sheer acting ability. I was stunned, however, by the apparent lack of effort, as familiar players turned in dreary, robotic, and struggling turns, with very few exceptions. It seemed as if the subject matter had dampened their stagecraft.

The real standout for best-in-cast is the matriarch Dukakis who, though flirting with over-perfection, is still compelling, complex, and sympathetic. Polley also has a brilliant bit — if not exactly fun — auditioning for a TV ad while struggling with tragic news. It’s probably the most uncomfortable I’ve felt in three years of reviewing, and reminded me of her highlighting the otherwise so-so Siblings.

It’s a difficult piece all around, graphic less for its nudity than an explicit view of terminal illness, symptoms, and treatment, including bleeding, despair, fear, incontinence, isolation, rage, sponge-baths, suffering, vomiting, and weeping. I suspect it would be quite effective as one of those wretched dread-umentaries shown to scare teens into practicing safer sex . . . assuming it was sufficiently accessible to hold their interest, that is.

It’s not just the content, but the presentation, which worked to rebuff my attention. I’ve become familiar enough with New York to know it isn’t the brownish-grey morass shown here. (I probably would have avoided it entirely if this had been my entree.) The film looks drab and downright ugly, with odd shot choices, over-close-ups, mismatched footage (both in grain and stock), off-synch dubbing, and moments of bewildering eccentricity.

Efforts at injecting artistry — a dissolve across the changing skyline, past events reflected in a mirror, and patients fading away — are too rare to overcome the oppressive weight of the rest.

Ultimately, I had highly conflicted feelings about The Event. It straddles a valuable line between education and edification. Still I found it neither entertaining nor watchable (certainly not compared to the trailer). It ends on a strong note, but getting there is both overlong and difficult. Appropriate to its topic perhaps but, overall, I’ll remember only an occasional good scene, and an off-putting presentation, too uneven to hold together as either drama or mystery.

It’s not a non-event, but it’s painfully close.

* * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

110 minutes

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