Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

          It’s tempting to say that Eyes of Laura Mars would have been a better movie if its original writer, horror icon John Carpenter, had also been the director—but then again, the central conceit of Carpenter’s story is so goofy that it’s possible even he would have encountered difficulty in making the narrative believable. The gimmick is that a fashion photographer becomes psychically linked to a serial killer, “seeing” murders as they’re committed. This makes her and all the people she knows suspects, and the premise inevitably leads to a showdown between the photographer and the killer.
          Journeyman director Irvin Kershner got the job of filming the story (David Zelag Goodman rewrote Carpenter’s script), and he delivers a diverting but somewhat forgettable thriller whose glamorous textures accentuate the lack of narrative substance. For instance, the main character’s photos were taken by real-life provocateur Helmut Newton, so the “shoots” depicted in the movie feature lingerie-clad models juxtaposed with gruesome backgrounds (e.g., car wrecks). Sensationalistic, to be sure, but not necessarily meaningful.
          Faye Dunaway stars as Laura Mars, a super-successful fashion photographer whose life unravels when she starts “seeing” murders. Laura soon meets Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones), who is understandably skeptical about her insights. As Neville investigates the people around Laura, he and Laura become lovers. The movie gets formulaic during its middle section, with various characters in Laura’s life presented and dismissed as possible suspects, and whenever the movie needs a jolt, Kershner has Dunaway slip into a trance while he cuts to hazy point-of-view shots representing the killer’s perspective during a murder.
          The movie actually loses credibility as it progresses, and the ending is so trite it’s almost campy, but Kershner benefits from a strong supporting cast. In particular, Rene Auberjonois, Brad Dourif, and Raul Julia invest small roles with color and dimensionality. Unfortunately, the leads don’t fare as well. Jones does his standard early-career taciturn-stud thing, glowering through rote scenes as a cynical investigator, and Dunaway plays the whole movie a bit too broadly—by the time she’s cowering in her bedroom while the killer confronts her, she’s using hand movements so operatic they recall Barbara Stanywck’s performance in the 1948 potboiler Sorry, Wrong Number. In fact, it says a lot about Eyes of Laura Mars that the most memorable thing in the movie is Barbara Streisand’s overwrought theme song, “Prisoner,” which plays at the beginning and end of the picture. Fittingly for a movie set in the fashion industry, it’s all about the packaging, baby.

Eyes of Laura Mars: FUNKY

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