1932. The tyrannical and despotic government of President Machado has headed Cuba for seven years. The latest measure of that tyranny is the outlawing of public gatherings of more than four... See full summary »
Against a background of war breaking out in Europe and the Mexican fiesta Day of Death, we are taken through one day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a British consul living in alcoholic disrepair and obscurity in a small southern Mexican town in 1939. The Consul's self-destructive behaviour, perhaps a metaphor for a menaced civilization, is a source of perplexity and sadness to his nomadic, idealistic half-brother, Hugh, and his ex-wife, Yvonne, who has returned with hopes of healing Geoffrey and their broken marriage. Written by
Eric Wees <firstname.lastname@example.org>
An Indulgent, Often Incoherent, but Interesting Adaptation
John Huston's adaptation of Malcom Lowry's celebrated novel is very much like his adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood": foggy, dreamlike and at times unwatchable. Huston finds a strange, distant tone that is somewhere between ironic and completely bizarre, with intentionality that is questionable at best. Even though Huston was getting old at this point, he was still tackling challenging material in his old age, which possibly explains the odd mix of provocative, dense material with stilted, unintuitive storytelling. If his age isn't the main culprit for the film's weird failings, then it may be his stiflingly traditional film-making, which seemed a bit outmoded in 1984. Either way, the film never finds a proper stylistic center, causing "Under the Volcano" to continually sink into incoherence.
Huston's most grave misstep was his choice to pace the film with mostly static shots and slow editing rhythms. For being so conservatively made, there is an almost constant lack of clarity, as no one element in the film complements the other. Albert Finney's go-for-broke performance as British diplomat Geoffery Firmin is fearless and raw, but Huston's shot selections and mostly bland mise-en-scene distract from the brimming anger and pain the actor tries so nakedly to express. Similarly, the absorbing, mythical imagery of the story's Mexican "Day of the Dead" setting instead feels random as the foregrounded symbolism seems ham-fisted where it should have been atmospheric. Instead of casting the story's eerie spell, Huston's film-making suffocates the material, causing it to become overblown yet underdeveloped.
That is all not to say Huston is completely to blame, however. Screenwriter Guy Gallo's task of condensing such enormous, literary ideas into a stand alone two-hour film is admirable, and structurally he does great things to keep the story immediately revolving around Geoffory's character arc, but by the end it feels like too many corners were cut to make it happen. The character of Hugh, Geoffery's dashing half-brother, is extremely undeveloped to the point of feeling unnecessary, and Yvonne, Geoffery's estranged wife, is never given the psychological need that would make her sympathy toward him credible. Even worse, the conclusion comes with a clumsy thud, ending the film suddenly and untidily.
(2 out of 4)
10 of 16 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?