The Disappearance of Alice Creed opens with a point-by-point look at two men (a menacing Eddie Marsan and a bewildered Martin Compston) preparing for the kidnapping of our titular anti-heroine (former Bond girl Gemma Arterton). Writer/director J. Blakeson builds the tension confidently with well shot, well scored scenes that lull the audience into believing these men are so meticulous and organized, whatever it is they are about to do, they’re going to pull it off brilliantly. They just have to. Oh, but when you mix in human emotions, things couldn’t go more astray.
We’ve seen these kidnap flicks before, and we know something always goes horribly awry. Blakeson knows he’s going to have to keep us on our toes, and he does so with some gravely intimate moments while falling back on old-fashioned melodrama. Marsan is quickly evolving into a British Paul Giamatti, and he gives an assured performance as the mastermind ex-con who hatched the plot. Meanwhile Compston navigates his character’s strangely curious emotions to good effect. The two men’s motives are clear, but surprisingly layered. We don’t need any more back-story than we receive, and the film’s most shocking twists come courtesy of the revelations surrounding their modus operandi.
Where things become muddied, however, is in the character of Alice Creed. Gemma Arterton has an arresting look about her (there’s a mod-60’s vibe, and her upper lip looks like she was stung by bees) that can be distracting. She plays the part of a spoiled little rich girl in trouble rather well, but her character’s motivations and background are never made clear. Perhaps Blakeson wanted the character to remain a mystery to the audience to keep us guessing…but Arterton doesn’t have the charisma or natural womanly wiles to pull off that kind of role…if that was even the kind of role intended. It’s clear Blakeson wanted to have a deep psychology running underneath the mayhem, but he drops the ball by giving us nothing to go by to explain Alice’s actions, or lack thereof at times. Maybe the film’s title is a red-herring…or maybe not.
Ultimately, Blakeson emerges as a writer/director to watch. His promising but slightly faulty debut thriller isn’t quite as knowing as it wants so desperately to be, but it does boast a good twist on the kidnap drama. When not relying on preposterous melodramatic moments in lieu of real character development, it’s a rather intense, nasty, lean little British neo-noir. Do check it out if you like that kind of thing.
Written by David H. Schleicher
** Note: I saw the film at City Cinemas in the East Village on 181 2nd Avenue after a return visit to Cafe Mogador for the best falafel you will ever find in NYC, or any city for that matter. Highly recommended.