This is a film that’s playing in a smaller number of cinemas than inevitable multiplex monolith Iron Man 2, which opens on the same day. While that film’s getting somewhat lukewarm reviews thus far, I can think of barely anything but praise for The Disappearance of Alice Creed.
The rumours are true- it’s a film that’s best watched with as little prior knowledge of its plot as possible. The following review will not spoil any of its numerous twists, and I will do my utmost to tell you why you should see it without revealing much of what is an unpredictable and expertly assembled little thriller.
Danny and Vic are two men with a plan. They’ve kidnapped the eponymous Miss Creed and secured her in a dingy flat-turned inescapable fortress.
And that’s as much as I dare give away of the plot. I’m not being overly cagey- you’ll thank me once you’ve seen it. This is mostly because the first 20 minutes of the film is superbly realised. There’s barely any dialogue and the narrative is conveyed almost entirely visually. Nothing is explained about who these men are and why they’re pulling off this plan. That’s for later, once writer-director J Blakeson has entirely submerged you in the action.
The plot drives inexorably forward even without explanation, and this starkness of exposition reflects much of the film itself. It’s a three-hander between Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston. In your average film, three superb performances would be something to write home about, but in a film where this is the full extent of the cast, it’s essential.
Thankfully, the trio do more than hold their own, and make the film entirely compelling from start to finish.
Marsan is as reliable as ever as Vic, becoming simultaneously dangerous and vulnerable. His mercurial turn falls somewhere between Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, and although that’s an admittedly large gap, you’ll see what I mean when you see the film.
Elsewhere, Compston brings a multi-tiered and inscrutable character to life in a way that gradually makes him even more dangerous to watch than Marsan.
On the topic of Gemma Arterton, I have previously been less than positive. In Quantum Of Solace, her Agent Fields was there to deliver exposition and become a notch on Bond’s bedpost, with little room for performance. More recently in Clash Of The Titans, she was there to deliver even more exposition with even less room for performance, eventually serving as a love interest for the most Australian Greek you’ll ever encounter.
I’m not assuming too much of her role in the upcoming Prince Of Persia, but her blockbuster track record isn’t exactly bursting with laudable performances.
Here, she’s a revelation. Even though her principal role for that first 20 minutes or so is to scream and wrestle against being manhandled by Vic and Danny, her performance blossoms throughout the film. She’s a character who’s capable of manouvering around her captors once she figures out what they want and Arterton never misses a beat. Even given her position, she’s not a bit of the damsel in distress she was in those blockbuster efforts.
At one point, I stifled an inappropriate chuckle when Marsan calmly directs her to avoid any kind of narrative while producing a ransom video. I imagined that’s what her other directors told her, albeit without holding her at gunpoint.
As a three-hander set largely on one set, it sustains interest through a number of twists and surprises that come around every quarter of an hour, once the scenario has been fully established. Some of the turns are initially implausible, but the strong performances on show make it all convincing.
If there’s an appreciable flaw with the film, it’s that the body blows of the earlier subversions and ploys never quite lead to a knockout blow at the finale. Without giving too much away, the ending is still satisfying enough, but it’s a little deflated compared to what precedes it.
It’s also quite incredible in how it builds and maintains suspense. It’s not Hurt Locker suspense, where you worry Eddie Marsan might detonate at any minute and destroy the whole flat, but rather a dread of the inevitable three-way confrontation between the cast. This is the case in one particularly excellent scene shortly after the first of those twists, which ends with a darkly funny use of the potty emergency trope. Twice.
Blakeson doesn’t shy away from his subject matter. He shows us the entire cast naked before the ten minute mark, but he still does well not to sexualise Alice’s plight. His direction matches the relentless script, and the production design gives us a claustrophobic environment that serves the suspense very well, equally serving as a prison for Alice and a domestic hideout for Vic and Danny. Indeed, it speaks volumes that the film’s few weak moments are set outside that laboriously reinforced dungeon of a flat.
With Ol’ Shellhead sure to bring out audiences in their droves this week, it seems likely that most will see The Disappearance Of Alice Creed for the first time on DVD. If it’s playing near you though, you should definitely find the time to give it a look.
It’s an unpredictable and enjoyable thriller that finally announces Gemma Arterton for her talent and not her looks, and boasts two more fantastic performances from Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston. It definitely doesn’t deserve to disappear.