Looking back at Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer Eight
Bruce Robinson’s attempt at a Hollywood thriller, Jennifer Eight, was given a lukewarm reception in 1992. ZoÃ« looks back at one of the writer/director’s less appreciated films...
Bruce Robinson is the director of cult classic, Withnail And I, and the hero of the upraised gems of British cinema and Hollywood. Not the most likely combination in the world. However, it created one of the best thrillers ever to come out of the film factory during the thriller boom of the 1990s.
Jennifer Eight was released in 1992. Starring Andy Garcia and Uma Thurman, it told the story of a serial killer who specialised in blind victims. Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, it was his attempt at commercial cinema, but was it to be a cinematic revolution?
Jennifer Eight is set in the small town of Eureka. Eureka was a quiet and extremely rainy little town until John Berlin arrived. After the discovery of a hand on a rubbish dump, John Berlin reopens a long forgotten case involving a serial killer, and sets about solving the crime, while at the same time protecting and forming a relationship with a key witness who, ironically, is also blind.
The film has all the ingredients of a hit. There's mystery, there's some action sequences, there's romance and there's some guaranteed ‘on the edge of your seat' (and falling off your seat) moments.
Now, some of you more eagle-eyed Bruce Robinson fans may have noticed Jennifer Eight isn't your unusual, offbeat, eccentric, comedic, yet tragic Robinson film. In fact, as appearances go, you could easily mistake it for an average thriller, by an average, sane, perfectly normal Hollywood director. But the truth is, it isn't.
While the genre isn't familiar territory, the emphasis on the characters is. Every character is complex and well thought out, especially Helena and Berlin.
Berlin has many qualities that are not unfamiliar in Robinson's previous work. He's a lonely, recovering alcoholic who has a strong friendship with Freddie Ross (does anyone else hear bells ringing?). Whereas Helena is much more spiritual and innocent (the bells! the bells!). She ‘s into poetry and music and appears quite vulnerable, which is only enhanced by her blindness, heightening her victimisation.
The plot is clever, and one would expect no less from Robinson. It's tightly devised and set up in such a way that he keeps us mere mortals guessing until the very end, as he holds as much information as possible out of our reach.
What makes it so good is the little details Robinson gives a great deal of attention to, some which we watch without so much as a second thought and some which we realise are incredibly significant and important, but can‘t quite work out why.
It is also very witty and has some great lines: "You don't know if Tuesdays come in twos or happen once a week."
The screenplay is unmistakeably Robinson's, as the tone and dialogue could only have been penned by the man who can take the simplest of plots and turn them into the most intriguing of films. The dialogue in the film is definitely one of Robinson's strengths, and even the most uninteresting of scenes swiftly become extremely interesting, as proved during a lengthy interrogation.
Jennifer Eight also features some brilliantly choreographed scenes and is filled with more tension than a Hitchcock film and more unease than dinner at the in-laws. Some of the many great scenes include the bath scene, where Helena is unknowingly photographed naked by the institute's pervy 'janitor', or cleaner, to you and me.
There's also a scene in the institute on Christmas Eve, as Berlin chases the murderer around the building in the dark, with a torch, as light switches fail to exist in suspense thrillers.
And finally, there's the 'falling-off-your-seat' scene at the end, when the murderer is finally revealed. It's such a thrilling scene that will leave you staring at the screen in shock and disbelief again and again, no matter how many times you watch it. That is if the tension doesn't murder you first.
It can be said that a Bruce Robinson film is like a bottle of posh fizzy pop, as there is a special secret ingredient that makes a film his. There's something that both Withnail And I and How To Get Ahead In Advertising has that makes you realise from the beginning credits that you are about to watch a Bruce Robinson film,. Yet while Jennifer Eight is a brilliant thriller, it lacks this ingredient and individuality that his previous films have.
For it very much appears that Robinson has followed the rule book of the thriller genre, here, rather than ripping it up and jumping on the tiny pieces, as he did with his previous films. And although his voice and ideas are there, Jennifer Eight doesn't have quite the same feel.
So, is Jennifer Eight worth a viewing? Most definitely. It's everything a thriller should be and much, much more. The acting is fantastic, especially on Thurman's part, the writing intelligent, and the shots are first class. In fact, Jennifer Eight is, by far, one of the best thrillers ever produced and just proves how versatile Robinson's writing skills are.
Even working on a foreign genre, he excels himself and produces a truly unique piece of cinema. However, at the same time, it also proves that, no matter how much gloss Hollywood has to offer, it isn't for everyone.
Whilst Jennifer Eight unquestionably deserves mention amongst the recent best in the genre, it certainly isn't as individual and distinctive as you might expect from someone like Bruce Robinson.
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