Thursday, June 12, 2014

Belle Makes PG Look Good

Whenever I go into a theatre and find the movie I'm about to see has a PG tag on it, I tighten up a bit. I don't know exactly why, but unless it's an animated concept usually PG means the filmmakers are gonna dance around the issues to please the ratings board. Yet as I watched Belle unfold on the big screen I really found myself feeling the opposite of my expectations. Amma Asante made Belle feel like a thorough and complete idea without forcing any unnecessarily adult sequences on its audience. She wasn't worried about selling people with sex and language. She knew what she had in this rather amazing story. And she told it concisely and with the ease of a master of her craft. Gotta say, I was impressed.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw brought her A-game and proved to me she'll be worth looking out for in future pictures. She's also incredibly gorgeous, and it's not at all difficult to believe so many people would be willing to break the rules of society to try to be with her. Tom Wilkinson was really interesting to watch here as well. He's one of those actors you can trust to at least wear the part, even if that part doesn't quite fit who he is. I only say this because I've seen him stretch a few times in the past... but not here. In Belle he is a crucial piece to the puzzle. Sarah Gadon was very charming in her own way. Her role is a complex one and required a deeper understanding from the actress. Well she got it and delivered. Between Sam Reid, James Norton, Emily Watson, Tom Felton (whom I don't always love), and a "goode" cameo by Matthew Goode I felt the casting was absolutely sound and I think it's worth noting what a fine job Toby Whale did in bringing together such a solid group of actors.
While at times, the cinematography pulled me out, I think the story was so compelling that I was able to power through those moments... particularly (and this may not be a cinematography note at all) during the courtroom scene when the extras were just far too in focus and wouldn't stop having the most bizarre reactions. That's petty I know. It's hard to control everyone in a room of sixty people. So I'll just give them a pass on this.
What Belle accomplishes is really exciting to me. Amma Asante, it seems, really understood what Misan Sagay had to say in her writing. And there's a very important metaphor that pushes through in this material. We really can't look at the race issues of the past and present from just the kaleidoscopic view of race. In reality, the issues stem more from classism which is something I think we see a lot of today. If we can break from old conformities and recognize that geniuses and great men and women can come from any background I think we would be a much more civilized community. Belle sharply hits that note and manages to prove its point while connecting it all back to a real life historical event... one that seems little known by audiences today, but is absolutely worthy of our attention.
In short, Belle is a fine film. I walked out with a skip in my step, and I think you will too. So bring a good friend and try and get some butts into that theatre before it's gone!

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