Movie review: The eyes have it: 'Pearl Earring' may be beautiful, but characters lack depth
Movie Review "Girl With A Pearl Earring" Century 10 Rated PG-13 100 minutes Two and a half out of four stars "Girl With A Pearl Earring" shares many things in common with the Vermeer painting that inspired the book the movie is based on. On the p...
"Girl With A Pearl Earring"
Two and a half out of four stars
"Girl With A Pearl Earring" shares many things in common with the Vermeer painting that inspired the book the movie is based on.
On the plus side, it is beautifully rendered and open to interpretation because of its enigmatic qualities.
On the negative side, it's too static for its own good.
"Girl With A Pearl Earring" is based on Tracy Chevalier's 1999 speculative historical novel. In it, ingénue du jour Scarlett Johansson plays Griet, who, in 17th century Delft, Holland, is sent to work as a maid in the home of painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth).
She catches the perfectionist painter's eye and eventually becomes the subject of a commissioned work requested by Vermeer's conniving patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), who notices a spark between the two.
Meanwhile, Vermeers' mother-in-law Maria Thins (Judy Parfitt) attempts to keep the growing household afloat on Vermeer's infrequent income while keeping her daughter, Catharina (Essie Davis), in the dark about the increasingly emotional relationship forming between model and artist.
Directed by Peter Webber and filmed by cinematographer Eduardo Serra, "Girl With A Pearl Earring" is achingly beautiful at times.
Serra does a transcendent job of capturing the tones that appear in Vermeer's work, most notably a rust-tinged scene of Griet and Pieter (Cillian Murphy of "28 Days Later"), a butcher's son who is courting her, as they walk along a tree-lined river bank.
Webber, production designer Ben van Os, makeup and hair designer Jenny Shircore and costume designer Dien van Straalen also faithfully recreate Holland of the 1660s.
While "Girl With A Pearl Earring" is great to look at, it remains emotionally uninvolving because the performances are too subdued. One could argue the portrayals are representative of the rigid Catholicism and social caste system of the age, but Johansson and Firth are too quiet and sullen, respectively, to make them believably attractive to the other character.
Vermeer, in particular, is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. What, in particular, does he see in the plain Griet that inspires such artistic zeal and seething lust that he jeopardizes not only his marriage, but patronage?
Davis, as the wife who feels betrayed by her husband's fixation on and use of the young girl as the subject of his portrait, chews up the scenery by comparison and is the only memorable character to linger after the credits roll.
Catharina's demand to see the portrait her husband is obsessing about, and her realization that her pearl earrings graced another woman's lobes, gives the movie a necessary, albeit belated, jolt of adrenaline.
When she mournfully asks, "Why don't you paint me?" you feel for Catharina and wonder the same thing.
If the point is to explore the inspiration for a great painting, Olivia Hetreed's screenplay gives few clues why Griet inspires Vermeer so much.
Recent movies have done exemplary jobs of bringing art, artists and the creative process to life, namely "Frida," "Adaptation," "The Swimming Pool" and "Pollock."
But "Girl With A Pearl Earring" remains too much like its artistic namesake -- an enigmatic two-dimensional portrait.
Readers can reach Forum features editor Dean Rhodes at (701) 241-5524.