Gosford Park (2001)

Genres - Comedy Drama, Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Ensemble Film, Whodunit  |   Release Date - Dec 26, 2001 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 137 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , Italy , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Elbert Ventura

This handsome whodunit-cum-comedy of manners marks a return to form for maverick filmmaker Robert Altman. Set in a sprawling estate in the English countryside circa 1930, the movie gives Altman the chance to do what he excels in -- namely, juggle a cast of more than two dozen actors and weave a coherent, cohesive panorama of human behavior. As with most Altman movies, that behavior is distinguished by frailty and pettiness. The breezy barbarism of "civilized" people is on display, as is the strange symbiotic relationship that binds masters and servants. Altman commandeers his fluid camera through the halls, rooms, and lawns of the crowded mansion with the assurance of a master storyteller. There seems not one wasted shot in this efficient movie, and yet it breathes with the spontaneity typical of Altman. Also typical is Altman's perfunctory approach to the murder mystery. Never one interested in the rote workings of a genre, Altman sees the mystery less as an engine for suspense than as an opportunity for sad wisdom and sobering epiphany -- you could say it's less a whodunit than a whydunit. Needless to say, the material is familiar: weekends-in-the-country and upstairs-downstairs intrigues have been the stuff of other excoriations of the landed class, most famously Jean Renoir's canonical La R├Ęgle du jeu. Altman and his glittering cast -- a who's who of British acting -- wisely do not attempt to excavate new truths from the familiar form. Staying within its parameters, the movie is a lovely addition to a timeworn genre and a graceful echo of a timeless masterpiece.