A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Dan Reed, 2007, UK, 80 mins
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Danny Dyer, Ralph Brown, Anthony Calf, Steven Robertson
Why isn’t Gillian Anderson one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood? She’s beautiful, intelligent and consistently excellent in a wide variety of roles, and yet her big-screen appearances seem to be restricted to small cameos which leave us wanting more. Now Anderson has been given a meaty role in British thriller Straightheads and she seizes the part with both hands, giving a brave and powerful performance. Unfortunately, Dan Reed’s directorial debut is an unworthy showcase for her talents.
Anderson is Alice, a successful London businesswoman who is driving home from a party with new beau Adam (Dyer), when they run into a deer on a deserted country road. As they get out of their car to put the stricken animal out of its misery, the pair are ambushed by a group of locals (Brown, Calf and Robertson) who subject them to a savage assault. Adam is beaten to a pulp and left for dead by the side of the road, while Alice is violently raped. The traumatised couple return to London to rebuild their lives, but the emotional scars won’t heal, and the past comes back to haunt them a few months later. Alice is back in the area for her father’s funeral when she recognises one of her assailants. After discovering where he lives, she persuades the reluctant Adam to help her wreak bloody revenge on the men who ruined their lives.
Straightheads draws inspiration from previous rape-revenge dramas such as IRRÉVERSIBLE (2004), I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Straw Dogs (1971), but it never establishes an identity of its own. Reed fails to flesh out his leading characters, their relationship never rings true, and as a result the subsequent trauma they become embroiled in just feels like a long, pointless wallow in sadism. Anderson tries to transcend the limitations of her role by investing Alice with a sense of ambiguity and raw emotion, but her committed display only highlights the inadequacy of her co-stars. Dyer’s obnoxious geezer is indistinguishable from every other obnoxious geezer he has portrayed in his career, and the three villains of the piece are no more than one-dimensional brutes.
Reed struggles with tone throughout, trying to mix moments of black humour with sickening violence, and his occasional attempts to wring pathos out of his characters’ situation are doomed to failure. He seems to delight in repeatedly detailing the various violent acts which make up the contrived narrative; we get to Alice’s rape scene twice, and Adam seems to be on the brink of a rape fantasy himself on two separate occasions. What on earth is Reed trying to say here?
Straightheads doesn’t have anything to say, it’s a nasty and hollow piece of work. The film finally derails completely in the last fifteen minutes, when the two protagonists extract appropriate vengeance for the crimes committed against them in a horribly drawn-out sequence. Like everything else in the picture, this climax would be laughable if it wasn’t so repulsive.