Ever since man first realized that some people have more than their neighbors, there has been a class struggle. Few places in the world have a class hierarchy as we do here in the United States. Naturally, cinema has used these distinctions as the theme for many a drama. One of the latest presented to the public as ‘The Architect.' This story, adapted from the play by the Scottish playwright, David Greig, looks at a clash between the working class people living in the projects and the middle-class architect who designed the building. Writer-director Matt Tauber has transferred this work from the stage to the screen is a skill but introduced some flaws along the way. When I think of the plays that have translated well to film such greats as ’12 Angry Men’ naturally comes to mind. What worked there as the director was able to retain the intimate feel of the play. Here, the expansion to the screen seems to have lost what should have been a personal involvement of the audience. This would have faired far better with a more minimalist style. This is not to say that the theme of the piece did not come across, it did, but there was potential here that was not met. What is presented is a good film with solid performances that place a common problem under the scrutiny of the viewer.
Eden Court is one of many low-income housing projects located on the South side of Chicago. While it started its existence as a place that people could call home and live in relative safety in recent years the building has followed the downward slide of the neighborhood. Now, drug dealers, gangs, and prostitutes have all but taken over leaving the many honest, hard working families afraid to walk their streets. Tonya Neeley (Viola Davis) has had enough of being afraid for herself and her family. She decides to take matters into her own hands and creates a petition to have the building torn down and rebuilt up to code and safe from the surrounding dangers. For this to happen, she needs the help of the building’s architect, Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia). He designed the building some forty years ago in the liberal times of the sixties. He based the structure on the works of the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier. Waters can’t seem to accept that his creation has become such a decayed and degraded place. In his life as an architect and college professor, he cannot picture that his work has fallen so far down. Tonya does not make matters any better when she points out that the design is such that it is almost impossible to correct; destruction and rebuilding are the only options she can see. For Walters the building is not the only thing that is rapidly sliding down to retrievable destruction; his family is disintegrating. His son Martin (Sebastian Stan) is unsure of his identity including his sexuality. Martin is a dropout with no direction to his life. Waters’ daughter Christina (Hayden Panettiere) is fifteen going on thirty. She is anxious to explore her sexuality and is driven almost completely by her growing libido. Waters’ wife Julia (Isabella Rossellini) is barely able to be in the same room with him. Tonya’s family is a bit closer but still beset with problems. One daughter, Cammie(Serena Reeder), is a single, teenaged daughter while the other is a straight A student living with a white family. There was also a son, but he committed suicide by jumping from Eden’s rooftop.
The film has a strong central premise, the descent of the building as a reflection for the downward spiral each family is on. If this were made more of the focus of the story the film would have been a lot better. Instead, there are too many sub plots that only serve to dilute the drama. This takes a strong dramatic statement and reduces it to a soap opera. What saves the film is the casting and the direction. Matt Tauber manages to keep the narrative alive with excellent editing. The scenes are well crafted and lit to near perfection; his direction out shines his writing here. The movie just seems to try too hard to do too much.
This is a stellar cast that makes up for many of the flaws of the film. Anthony LaPaglia is one of those actors who has made a name for himself both on television and film. His talent is amazing; capable of both drama and comedy. In this film, he portrays Waters as a man unable to let go of the past. When he started out forty years ago, he had the best intentions. He wanted to start the perfect family and design buildings that would be both inventive and practical. Now, middle aged he is witnessing the dissolution of his family, and he is confronted by a young woman telling him his building is ill-conceived. LaPaglia does not take the easy road here by over playing the angst; he lets it build organically pulling the audience into his performance. Viola Davis is a strong actress with considerable talent. She holds her scenes together with sheer will power. Davis lets the audience identify with her character without allowing pity to seep in. After a few teen romp flicks, Hayden Panettiere has certainly made it big on NBC’s hit television series, Heroes. Here is gets to play a deeper character as the lusty Christina. She presents her character as a girl that just wants to grow up and leave home. In her eyes sex defines adulthood, and it is the way to achieve her goal of leaving. Isabella Rossellini is an incredible actress that is not given any opportunity to display her talent. Here she is reduced to being part of the set, completely one dimensional. As the confused son, Sebastian Stan does well but does not bring anything new to the table. His portrayal of his character is right from a Lifetime movie and is unfortunately predictable. He has innate talent but nowhere to take it.
Magnolia Pictures is releasing this film on DVD only a few days after a limited theatrical release. For smaller films like this, a new release paradigm such as this is perfect for those without a local art film theater. While this is not the strongest independent film, it is better than a lot of what the main stream studios are releasing. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is well done. The color palette is realistic with somewhat muted colors that reflect the general feeling of the film. The Dolby 5.1 is over kill but appreciated. The rear speakers give a natural ambiance while the front speakers display a better than average channel separation. The sub woofer is largely unused and unneeded. There are some deleted scenes included as extras as well as a commentary track by the director. He does a good job of relating his decisions in the production of the movie. Overall this film is worth the watch if for no other reasons than some excellent performances.
Posted 12/04/06 07/26/2017