Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cinema....The Oxford Murders

This film (titled Los Crimenes de Oxford in Spanish) is the first to be made made overseas by Spanish director Alex de La Iglesia. Based on a book of the same name by the Argentinian writer Guillermo Martinez, it is shot in English and has some well known names in the leading roles (John Hurt, Elijah Wood and Leonor Watling). I have to say that I went to see this film forewarned, Ben over at Notes From Spain had already posted on it and wasn’t impressed. Sad to say, I came out of the cinema at the end with a similar opinion to his.

In many ways it is a very traditional kind of film, a whodunit based around a series of murders that are said to be linked to a symbolic series – not for nothing do we see a Cluedo board in one of the scenes. Wood plays a postgraduate student who becomes involved in the mystery following the murder of his landlady. A professor at the university, played by Hurt, is the other principal character at the heart of the story.

The script is stilted and unconvincing, and the plot is developed almost entirely through what I would call “Holmes and Watson” moments of revelation as the Hurt-Wood pairing use their combined intellectual power to unravel the mystery. The police for some strange reason seem to feel happy with letting this odd couple lead the investigation. Meanwhile, there are other characters in the story whose only purpose for existing seems to be to provide us with a suitably large list of potential suspects.

Not having read the book I have no way of knowing whether the problem is the original story or the way in which it has been adapted. Perhaps it’s a case of what works on paper not transferring well to the cinema screen? A good murder mystery has to generate tension and draw you into the intricacies of the story bit by bit, the problem here is that the spectator is left passively waiting for the great minds to reveal their latest deductions. At the end of the film there were still some things I hadn’t fully understood about what had happened; the main problem was that it didn’t really bother me that much.

It’s a departure from the director’s usual style, and unfortunately I think the venture hasn’t worked – although the film seems to be doing reasonably well here in Spain. It’s a shame, because it’s yet another film that created expectations that are not fulfilled. My yardstick for a good De La Iglesia film still remains the same as before, if it doesn’t end with an action sequence on a building near or overlooking Madrid’s Gran Via then it doesn’t make the grade (La Comunidad or El Día de la Bestia).


Colin Davies said...


So, last night you didn't dream about Espe.

Have you considered treatment?

From someone else, I mean. -:)

Graeme said...

She was one of my chief suspects Colin - even though she doesn't appear in the film!