Hard Candy (10/10)
by Tony Medley
There have been some movies
that were mostly all talk. “Becket” (1964) was one. Of course it was
talk between Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. But it was talk,
nonetheless. There were some horses. Someone (Becket) got killed. But it
was mostly talk. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1966) was all talk
with no horses. Richard Burton again, with Elizabeth Taylor. Both films
were highly entertaining. But, by and large, movies that consist mostly
of talk are generally pretty much of a bore and waste the capabilities
of the medium.
“Hard Candy” is basically all
talk, but it is in the mold of “Becket” and “Virginia Woolf,” because it
is mesmerizing. 14 year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page, who was 17
years-old when the movie was shot) gets acquainted with 32 year-old
photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) online and, after some
flirting, meets him at a local coffee shop. They have some sharp
conversation. She is very cute and precocious. He, I guess, is hot. He
needs a shave like most young leading men today. They seem to hit it
off, and he invites her back to his apartment where they have more
conversation. The adult-like relationship between a grown man and a girl
barely into her teens is uncomfortable.
At this point, approximately
15 minutes into the 99 minute movie, it’s talk and not overly
compelling. There is some tension because you are pretty certain that
Jeff has ulterior motives. I mean, what is there about a 14 year-old
girl that could interest a normal 32 year-old man except perversion?
Clearly, something bad is about to happen here. We can see that Jeff has
a hidden agenda. But what about Hayley?
From that point on, this is a
film that surprises you and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s as
good a “psychological thriller” as you could hope to see. There are some
scenes that will make you squirm, even though there is nothing graphic.
It’s all just talk. Just Jeff and Hayley. But what talk! Tension mounts
with every scene.
Often music is used to remind
the audience that a movie is scary and tense or to warn the viewer that
something is about to happen. This film has no background music. None is
needed. The tension is created by the acting and the dialogue and the
direction. Because it’s all talk, the entire film hinges on how Page and
Wilson execute their roles. With apologies to Carly Simon, I can’t
imagine anybody doing it better.
“Hard Candy” is based on
real-life occurrences in Japan, which came to the attention of producer
David Higgins, who asked Los Angeles stage writer-director Brian Nelson
to write a script. Because Nelson writes for the stage, it is staged
like a play. In his feature film debut, director David Slade, a music
video director, recognized that the play-like staging needed no
alteration to make it into a film, because the script is so taut and
convincing. He directs with a deft, intuitive feeling for the mood. He
says that he used the color palette, the tone and the density, as almost
a third character, “it was going to do a lot of storytelling when very
little was being said and very little was being done.” Enhanced by the
lack of music, it establishes itself as a one-of-a-kind thriller.
Unlike most movies, this was
shot in sequence, except for the opening coffee shop scenes, and in only
18 days. There were no stunt doubles. Even though you suspect that Jeff
is an ephobophile (let’s clear something up; a pedophile is someone who
is sexually attracted to a prepubescent child; an ephobophile is someone
attracted to a postpubescent youth) and that Hayley is a victim,
appearances are so deceiving that you’re never sure who is good and who
is bad and for whom you should be feeling sympathy. My guest was a woman
who sympathized with Jeff. I sympathized with Hayley, although I wavered
back and forth, as I’m sure my guest did.
Wilson does a wonderful job
as the photographer/ephebophile. But the key to the film is Page. Slade
tested between 250 and 300 young actresses before he saw a video of
Canadian actress Page. “It was a terrible quality MPEG,” he says. “Ellen
had recently shaved her head for a role, so for all intents and purposes
I was looking at this little boy doing this reading without any
direction at all. Yet she was head and shoulders above everybody else.
She was just raw ability, and very passionate and articulate; she
emotionally believed the character.” Page is so good that if she doesn’t
get an Oscar nomination, something’s wrong (well, after the last three
or four years of Oscar we know something’s wrong, don’t we?). It’s
stunning to see this young actress mesmerize the audience with her
performance. In fact, I’d give this film at least five nominations. In
addition to best actress, Wilson for best actor, Slade for best
director, Nelson for best original script and best picture.
I’m a critic, not a reviewer.
I’m paid to criticize, not to synopsize the story (thereby ruining it
for the reader). There are a few plot holes, but that’s to be expected;
this is a movie, after all. Even so, I can’t think of anything to
criticize in this movie.
April 5, 2006