Saturday, September 12, 2009

Creation [movie review]

* Theatrical release in the UK on September 25th; North American theatrical release date TBA

* Screened September 11th at Ryerson Theatre

The world premiere of Creation opened the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, marking the first time in 13 years that a non-Canadian film was granted opening night gala status. As festival co-director Cameron Bailey remarked during his introduction before the film's third festival screening which I attended, the film seemed like an appropriate "front door to the festival".

Creation is a biopic of the "father of evolution", Charles Darwin, with the movie focusing on the period of his life during the mid-1850's when he authored his landmark book On The Origin Of Species. Given the film's title and central figure, it came as a surprise to find that the core element of the film is not about Darwin's theories, hailed by the the opening titles as having been called "the biggest idea in the history of thought". This part of the Darwin story plays a key role, of course, but it takes a back seat to the portrayal of his marital problems and Darwin's struggle to cope with both the loss of a child and his faith in God.

Paul Bettany plays the scientist with an admirable performance, nicely capturing the complex elements of the man, whether it's Darwin as a doting and then mourning father, sickly mope, passionate scientist, burgeoning atheist or distant husband. Jennifer Connelly (Bettany's real life wife) portrays Emma Darwin, whose strong religious faith clashes with the concepts her husband espouses. The loss of one of the couple's daughters (Annie, played by Martha West) plays a significant part in the film, although several scenes where she appears as a ghost to her father tend to slow down the proceedings. The scenes between Bettany and West (when she's alive) are one of the high points of the film, with the two demonstrating great interaction. Oddly, most of the scenes with Connelly and Bettany don't appear to exactly sizzle with chemistry between the two, which probably actually helps the film as their characters spend most of the movie struggling to connect. Their powerful scene at the end of the film, however, brilliantly displays the considerable talents of each.

Director Jon Amiel (Entrapment, Sommersby) introduced the film and together with screenwriter John Collee (Master And Commander, Happy Feet) fielded questions after the screening. Amiel has crafted a beautiful looking movie, with attractive shots of the English countryside and great costumes, in addition to getting excellent performances from his cast. The movie drags at points, notably during the periods where Darwin battles depression as he blames himself for his daughter's death and also navigates a path laden with inner religious and faith conflicts. Marketing a film like Creation should prove to be a challenge, but this is the type of movie that usually garners Oscar attention, which will likely be necessary for it to gain a wide audience.

Rating: 6.5/10

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