The Architect review, The Architect DVD review

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Buy your copy from Amazon.com The Architect (2006) starno starno starno starno star Starring: Anthony LaPaglia, Viola Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Hayden Panetierre, Sebastian Stan
Director: Matt Tauber
Rating: R
Category: Drama

There is a scene early in director Matt Tauber’s adaptation of “The Architect”in which the wealthy, opaquely dissatisfied housewife played by Isabella Rossellini stares wordlessly and dejectedly at a bowl of fruit in her immaculate, well-furnished kitchen. The scene isn’t long – only a few seconds – but it neatly, terribly sums up the thuddingly obvious moral to the film’s story.

Want to know what it is? Brace yourself, because it’s Very Important. Here goes: Rich people are just as miserable as poor people. Actually, no, let’s rephrase that a little. Everyone is miserable.

“The Architect”’s 81 minutes are stuffed to the brim with shots of pained, downcast faces, conversations full of laughably heavy-handed dialogue, and some of the saddest, slowest piano music this side of a George Winston convention. If the movie gave the viewer a single character worth rooting for, or set up their problems in a way that encouraged the least bit of empathy, these might not be bad qualities, but as it is, you’re liable to miss a lot of the onscreen action due to excessive eye-rolling.

Part of the problem is that the film was adapted from David Greig’s play. On the stage, broadly telegraphed emotions and dialogue are often necessary; you’ve got to make sure the folks in the back rows are just as in tune with what’s going on as those up front. But on the screen, when telling a story that’s supposed to be intimate, you’ve got to make adjustments; often, an actor can say more with a look, or half a line, as he can with an over-the-top monologue.

Which is not to say that “The Architect”doesn’t have its share of Meaningful Looks; matter of fact, they’re damn near everywhere. But they’re just lazy shorthand; they signify nothing beyond “I’m sad,” or “I have problems.” It’s either laughable or irritating – take your pick.

The plot centers around the efforts by Tonya Neeley (Viola Davis) to petition the city of Chicago to demolish the gang-infested housing projects she lives in. Grasping at straws, she asks the buildings’ architect, Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia) to add his signature, explaining that if even the man who designed them supports their razing, the city will recognize that the projects have outlived their usefulness. The movie ping-pongs between Neeley’s problems (she misses her daughter, who she’s sent to live in a better neighborhood) and Waters’ problems (his wife hates him, his teenage daughter is propositioning truck drivers, his home-from-college son is a whiny crybaby).

You might be sensing that a talented cast is being wasted here, and you’d be correct; Davis, LaPaglia, Rossellini, and Hayden Panetierre (as the budding truckstop floozy) all struggle visibly to add something meaningful to the movie, but not even the greatest actors on Earth could rise above this mess. Consider the following exchange, delivered at what’s supposed to be a critical, emotional moment:

“When you called, you sounded like you really needed someone.”
“I’ve been trying to sound that way my entire life.”

And it’s worse than it looks on paper. It would bear mentioning that nothing winds up being resolved in the film, if it weren’t for the fact that there’s nothing to resolve. Okay, sure, the city opts to demolish the projects, but Neeley can’t even be happy about that, because she finds out via a form letter that fails to recognize all her sacrifice and hard work.

If you do somehow make it to the end of this disjointed, self-indulgent mess, you may find some small relief in imagining that, when the buildings are destroyed, every one of the film’s characters are trapped inside, along with that goddamn bowl of fruit. But not much.

~Jeff Giles

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