The Astronaut's Wife review
:. Director: Rand Ravich
:. Starring: Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron
:. Running Time: 1:41
:. Year: 1999
:. Country: USA
The Astronaut's Wife revives an old genre of movies, the paranoïd kind, which made the great days of the early 80's, when communism was still a threat to the free world. Even if the Rand Ravich revamps the genre with edgy visuals and some strong acting, it doesn't however avoid its usual clichés.
Those familiar with old classics such as The Invasion of Body Snatchers, won't be surprised by the plot or twists. In The Astronaut's Wife, Johnny Depp plays an astronaut who comes back from space and might have had an alien encounter, what his wife, Charlize Theron, suspects. The psychological film focuses on the astronaut's wife and her growing paranoïa concerning her husband. However, the key question of the movie: "Is he an alien?" is quickly uncovered without suspense, and the spectator ends up only caring for the Theron's performance.
The main assets of The Astronaut's Wife are undoubtely Charlize Theron and a paranoïd atmosphere. Is it by chance or not that the movie, just like The Devil's Advocate, looks like a vehicule, a demonstration of Theron's acting skills? Just as in The Devil's Advocate, a young couple moves to New York (after a farewell party), where the husband is going to work for a possibly evil company. As in The Devil's Advocate, the wife becomes the pivotal character subject to evil forces and finds herself caught between paranoïa and insanity. Like The Devil's Advocate, Charlize Theron eclipses the male leading role with her acting (even if that was not that hard opposite Keanu Reeves who had an unexpectedly supporting role in The Devil's Advocate, ultimately transforming the original supporting role to the lead character). However, in The Astronaut's Wife her character is stronger and instead of being passive is going to try to curse the course of events. Theron's performance gets stronger as the plot and suspense get thinner and therefore becomes the only interesting part of The Astronaut's Wife. Also, the shooting is a strength here. The arty shots match perfectly with the architecture of the buildings. Both the decor and the shooting have a rich and cold beauty that is a reflection of the couple of actors. They live in a uniform world of cold beauty that is reminiscent of Gattaca, whose influence on The Astronaut's Wife is clearly perceived (from NASA's conference rooms to the couple's apartment). The use of some camera effects emphasizes the paranoïa and successfully makes you feel what the wife feels. To the Rand Ravich's credit, special effects have been limited to Theron's feelings instead of going for some big ugly aliens with a laser.
The Astronaut's Wife features all the genre clichés, making it unsuspenseful. It recycles Invasion of the Body Snatchers (already remade by Philip Kaufman and Abel Ferrara), Invasion Los Angeles, The Thing, The Blob and others, and even Rosemary's Baby (evil baby and Theron's haircut) so that everything you see here has already been seen before. In addition, the film loses its breath pretty quickly, as soon as you know the truth about the husband. It becomes obviously too long, even though the movie is only around 110 mn long, well under nowadays 2 hour standard, therefore emphasizing the plot's failure. Instead, the movie should have played the ambiguousness regarding the astronaut, what would have sustained the suspense until the end. Also, Depp doesn't really perform here except for his southern accent. He keeps the same monotonous delivery throughout the movie, what makes his dichotomous character less believable. He is probably bored and doesn't believe in this movie that is unlike his usual choices but should feed him long enough to keep on choising arty flicks. Finally, this kind of movie was the most efficient during cold war, since alien invasion fear was a metaphor for a Russian communist threat. However, in these peaceful days, this paranoïa has considerably less grip on an audience (except for the Mulder wannabe).
With a strong cast and a talented Rand Ravich, The Astronaut's Wife just misses opportunites because of a bad cliché-ridden unsuspenseful screenplay.
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