(2009)2.5Alaina O'ConnorThe slow-burning melodrama Cracks, based on a novel by Sheila Kohler, is a dark tale of obsession and lust set on an isolated British isle. There's an uneasiness about Cracks that gradually builds to a violent end where the film finally kicks it up a notch -- perhaps a little too late -- but it's the excellent performances by Eva Green and Juno Temple that really help to keep the film interesting. The story takes place at an elite boarding school in the 1930s and centers on a group of girls who idolize their enigmatic swimming instructor, Miss G. (Green), a chic and bohemian woman who's attached to the school's queen bee, Di Radfield (Temple). However, when exotic new girl Fiamma (Maria Valverde) arrives from Spain, Di is displaced in her teacher's affections, and as Miss G. becomes increasingly obsessed with Fiamma, Di's jealously builds to an explosive end.
This is an auspicious feature debut for director Jordan Scott (daughter of director Ridley Scott), who isn't necessarily floating on nepotism, but the ingredients for this film are all too familiar to really spark, and it sort of makes you wonder whether her name alone was enough to get this film made. Scott paints a decidedly moody and elegantly staged character drama that's reminiscent of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie -- and to a lesser extent Notes on a Scandal -- with an atmosphere that is at once stiflingly dull and rife with hidden intrigue. Coupling picturesque slow-motion montages of boarding-school pastimes -- diving practice, parcels from home, midnight feasts -- with a story that is extremely thin, Scott paints a somewhat detached view of the characters in this tale of repressed, yet hormonally charged girls tinged with eerie eroticism.
Eva Green is perfectly cast as the glamorous schoolteacher who exists vicariously through her pupils -- inspiring the girls with her free-thinking ideals, exaggerated globe-trotting stories, and a glamorous lifestyle that seems to be just a little too perfect. Green immerses herself in the dark role, which plays to her strengths as she expertly portrays an unhinged woman who's not only isolated from the other teachers, but truly believes in the facade she's created. It's only gradually that the cracks start to show -- a little desperation around the eyes, a sense that she needs the adoration -- not to mention her unhealthy attachment to Fiamma. Green brings a certain twitchiness to the character that is both haunting and intriguing, and as Miss G. begins to unravel, so do the girls, exposing imperfections in their day-to-day lives, which inevitably leads to tragic consequences.
The film is at its best when it leaves things unexplained -- Miss G.'s self-imposed isolation coupled with a murky past -- and weakest when it rushes toward an all-too-familiar conclusion on the back of a plot that's overly simplistic and, quite frankly, boring at times.