Gambit – 2012

Director Michael Hoffman
Starring Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Cameron Diaz, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman
Writers Joel and Etan Cohen

Gambit is a film who’s pedigree and history is more interesting than the film itself.  It’s not for lack of trying, but the original Shirley MaClaine and Michael Caine film nominated for 3 Academy Awards gave this venture expectations that were only increased when the remake was written by the Cohen brothers and rumored to be directed by Altman, Alexander Payne, Mike Nichols and Doug Liman.  This doesn’t even mention the names attached to star in it.  Suffice to say, the Hoffman selection was a good bet, given his success with The Last Station.

As often happens when remaking a great movie from another age, nerves abound and everyone is afraid to stay on.  When this happens, one usually ends up placing an actress the caliber of Cameron Diaz in one of the leads.  It’s not that she is a bad actress, it’s just that she’s not possessing an extremely wide range.  And that Texas accent…ugh, it had me thinking very unpleasant thoughts that took required an extensive effort to exorcise.

The story is one of a lowly art appraiser Harry Deane (Firth) who seeks revenge on his nutty and mean boss (Rickman) by selling him a faked companion piece to Haystacks Dawn, known in the film as Haystacks Dusk.  The history in the film has the latter being lost for years after WWII. In a cinematic cheat, they show a scenario for this plot as it would appear in Deane’s optimistic mind, according to his partner and painting forger The Major (Courtney). Are we seeing this as Deane imagines it, or as his partner assumes Deane sees it? Understanding this helps one later in the film, unless one takes into account who was in on the scam. It is a conceit that allows the ending we see, but is ultimately a con on the viewer, which is more silly than sensible.

There are some fun sequences in the film, as the movie is an effort to show the comic chops of Colin Firth.  The Hotel sequence involving the Ming Vase and the missing pants is a microcosm for the film.  It goes well for a while but lasts too long to be really effective. Firth’s got the ability in spades, but he also has done a lot of average work. His performance here is unable to rise above the level that of the script.

The script is the biggest problem here.  It has the feeling of Cohen brothers, but it also feels like it has been altered somewhat.  It lacks the punch that their films usually have in spades, but then, it could be as simple as the different feel of the director.  Overall, the film is competent, if not that compelling.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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