(1987)4Rebecca Flint MarxA playwright whose career was as brilliant as it was brief, Joe Orton made his name with plays whose anarchic quality mirrored the tumult of his own life. Brash, unapologetically homosexual, and possessing unbridled cheek, Orton was a vibrant personality, merrily jeering in the face of proper society until he died suddenly and violently, bludgeoned to death by his longtime lover, Kenneth Halliwell. The story of Orton's life would be easy to sentimentalize or sensationalize, but director Stephen Frears focuses on a portrait of what was essentially a very bad marriage. As told in flashbacks from the vantage point of Orton's agent (Vanessa Redgrave) and biographer (Wallace Shawn), the conclusion of Orton and Halliwell's relationship is a foregone one; what remains is for the viewer to sit back and watch the water come to a boil. Much of the film's strength can be found in Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina's portrayals of Orton and Halliwell. Oldman bears an uncanny resemblance to the playwright, and his performance is sexy, dangerous, and utterly compelling. Molina invests Halliwell with the needy gloom of an unwanted lover; the wary hurt in his eyes tells us all we need to know about where he's headed. Their moody, ever-shifting relationship mirrors the mercurial transformation of the stuffy 1950s into the swinging 1960s; there is exhilaration to be savored, but also the bitter taste of chaos lurking beneath.