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Mary Reilly

The 1996 Mary Reilly is one of the most boring movies ever made. It is a film virtually without content. Yet, based on a novel by Valerie Martin that relates Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the viewpoint of a maid in Jekyll's house, and with the prestige collaboration of director Stephen Frears and playwright Christopher Hampton, you would think this $47 million film would be a fascinating, nuanced work (it only grossed $5.6 million in the U.S.). Of course, there is no maid in Stevenson's original tale; Martin made her up in order to approach the story from a "feminist" angle. But does the inclusion of maid Mary help us understand the tale better? No. In fact it is a distraction, as Jekyll falls in love with Mary — unlikely in the Scotland of the time — and their "relationship" eliminates the moral and scientific elements of the story. Why he does fall for her is unclear from the movie — something to do with scars she received from rat bites when she was a kid. In any case, Mary is as scared as a rat, and Frears prefers to present her as a passive creature, her head bowed and her shoulders slumped, always ready for some kind of physical abuse. Mary Reilly isn't the most dynamic central character you'll ever see in a movie, and Julia Roberts seems an odd choice to play the part, even if one appreciates her desire to vary her roles. Unfortunately, she doesn't work well in passive character parts, and her supposedly Irish accent sounds more like Georgia (when it's there at all). And as Jekyll, John Malkovich is once again terribly miscast. He too has some sort of weird, unidentifiable accent, and he comes across more like Ashley Wilkes than a driven Scottish intellectual. Meanwhile, Glenn Close (who is not even mentioned on the DVD box) makes an utterly unmemorable cameo as a brothel owner. Not one of these people can get a grip on the film; the narrative flows like sludge, and it is so repetitious and impoverished that you feel as if you have been watching the same scene for two hours. A film for Roberts completists only, or fans of the odd screen persona of Malkovich. The anamorphic widescreen image (1.85:1) is quite good for a very dark, visually repetitions movie. DD 5.0 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. The static, almost invisible menu offers 28 chapters, along with the usual text-only talent files, trailers for this and "related" movies, and a short, uninformative "making-of" featurette. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm



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