Magazine article The Spectator

Losing Faith

Magazine article The Spectator

Losing Faith

Article excerpt

Stigmata

(18, selected cinemas)

Limbo

(15, selected cinemas)

Stigmata is godawful. Directed by Rupert Wainwright, a British film-maker with all the religious sensibility of Madonna's decorator, its thesis seems to be that Catholicism is kinda cool once you get those uptight priest dudes out the way and oomph up the music. Wainwright's heroine is Frankie (Patricia Arquette), a Pittsburgh hairdresser who boozes it up, smokes it up, shags like a minx, and is a non-believer until she begins to display on her body the marks of Christ on the Cross.

She takes her bleeding limbs over to Father Andrew (Gabriel Byrne), who's suitably impressed. Unfortunately, Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) is less enthusiastic, and determined to shut down the investigation. Whether or not Miss Arquette's wounds are those of Jesus, her career's certainly in need of some kind of resurrection after this dim movie. Wainwright, who shows no evidence of being able to direct actors, manages to elicit three all-time dud one-note performances from Pryce (glowering), Byrne (brooding) and Arquette (sleepwalking). The emptiness at the heart of this film gapes from every gaudy setpiece: there's more understanding of Christian faith in Mel Brooks's Spanish Inquisition dance number in History of the World Part One.

Limbo is not another religious experience, but only John Sayles's latest film, which, for his fans, is pretty much the same thing. Sayles subscribes to the Clintonian theory of 'compartmentalisation': there's John Sayles, the independent director who refuses to sell out, and John Sayles, the hotshot Hollywood rewrite man you can rent by the hour (the eventual final draft of Apollo 13, for example, bears his tweaks), and ne'er the twain shall meet. A pity, because halfway through Limbo you begin to pine for Tom Hanks to drop out of the sky in an astronaut suit.

Limbo is set in Juneau, Alaska, where the winters are ten months long, but not as long as a John Sayles film. If it didn't have Sayles's name on it, even hardcore fans might find this movie earnest, patronising, dreary, studied, in some details dully plausible, in others laughably fake. Sayles is supposedly a paragon of intelligence and integrity, but his intelligence doesn't extend to such elementary aspects of film-making as cast chemistry. The director presents us with the sort of community you can find all over the frozen north - the foundering industry (there's a salmon cannery, but who eats canned salmon anymore? …

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