A few months ago, regrettably only after breaking my arm, I was approached by a well known South African public relations firm for my review of the ‘South African Premiere of Slumdog Millionaire’. Subsequently, I was kindly asked if I would be interested in being a part of their mailing list and any future ‘events’. Of course I responded with a resounding ‘yes’!
Since that time, I have been kept up to date and privy to the latest in South African box office records, figures and events. Often incorporating the information into my posts whenever I deem the data to be informative, applicable and or appropriate. To my surprise, it appears that the fruits of my labour have begun to ripen.
Last week, I unexpectedly received an official invitation to an actual ‘press screening’ of an as yet unreleased film. It goes without saying that I was incredibly taken aback and immensely excited. After all, it was the first time that I had been invited to an event as a ‘recognised’ member of the press.
The invitation was to the screening of ‘The Human Contract’, which serves as Jada Pinkett Smiths debut as both a writer and director.
The Human Contract focuses on charming, self-made marketing entrepreneur Julian Wright (Jason Clarke), who is constantly tormented by a viciously disturbing secret that he has harboured from childhood. With his personal life in shambles and physical pain his only means of solace, Julian becomes entrapped in an open styled love affair with a gorgeously elusive stranger, Michael Reed (Paz Vega), who tempts him from the rigid confines of corporate life to try and explore a bohemian laden lifestyle. A decision that will not only dramatically affect his life, but also the lives of his co-workers, friends and family.
The movie, in the simplest sense, is a standard erotic thriller in the vein of Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. Consequently, if you have seen previous entries in this genre, then you will have a good idea of what this movie is about and what to expect in terms of the story. That said, with a handful of obligatorily gratuitous sex scenes and a few token scenes of violence thrown in for good measure, lest not forget the infused debilitating psychological baggage which, at the crux of the movie, causes the unravelling of one characters hidden secrets to intensify another characters irrational and violent impulses; the story, unfortunately, does not try anything new. So even though I felt immersed in the intertwining lives of Julian and Michael for most of the film, there were times when predictability overcame lustful suspense. I presume this was Smith’s attempt at following the adage “better safe than sorry” for her directorial debut, which is a shame because the story is by no means bad, but it can feel somewhat incomplete and tawdry at times. To be fair, the plot is relatively solid and entertaining enough to sustain itself. Furthermore, it appears that Smith does indeed have a good ear for dialogue, with writing that is sharp, coherent, amusing and, most importantly, believable.
Casting unknown actors, for leads in any movie, is quite a risky endeavour. However, in this case, the outcome proved to be worth the risk, since both Jason Clarke and Paz Vega handle almost all of their lines with absolute aplomb. Jason Clarke plays his part with just the right amount of sly arrogance and contemptuous sincerity, with a hint of an underlying and menacing streak, which helps to keep the viewer guessing at the truth of what lies beneath his emotionless facade. Similarly, Paz Vega (who looks and sounds remarkably like Penelope Cruz – really, they could be sisters, if not twins) proves that not only is she more than able to play the curious seductress, whose lustfully carnal agendas result in her teetering on the edge of precariously dangerous scenarios, but she is also able to handle the subtle nuances of a character who is burdened by a history of physical and emotional abuse. Ultimately though, the two leads do a magnificent job of carrying the film, even when more absurd content is dealt with.
Lastly, where the The Human Contract excels, is in the department of visual style and flair. For a majority of the time, Smith proves her worth as a director. Allowing for a level of moody cinematography that lends an intoxicatingly charged, rhythmically sexual overlay, to scenes involving Julian’s embrace of Michael’s offer of an unconventional lifestyle. This juxtaposes very well with the sleek, urban, glass and steel corporate sterility of the business environment where Julian is employed. This juxtaposition, although subtle, is tantamount to the progression of the story and the development of both Julian and Michael’s characters. As a result, I was extremely pleased with the visual appeal of the film.
The film may not be without its problems, but for a directorial debut, the film is good. Although The Human Contract may not be the most original film it does do an adequate job of filling another slot in the erotic thriller genre. I personally look forward to see what else Jada Pinkett Smith will do in the near future.
On a side note: this movie actually inspired the previous Music Monday post.
Until the next time “Milieunairs”!