September 03, 2004

Wicker Park

Directed by Paul McGuigan Starring Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Diane Kruger and Matthew Lillard

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Despite its stylish appearance and engaging plot, Wicker Park unwittingly falls into the common traps that encumber most American remakes of foreign films. It is a by-the-numbers adaptation of Gilles Mimouni's 1996 French thriller L'Appartement, but unfortunately far too many elements here get lost in Hollywood translation.

Josh Hartnett stars as Matt, who spontaneously puts off an important business trip and a marriage proposal after a brush with a woman reminiscent of his old flame Lisa (Diane Kruger). He traces her using a hotel key she has left behind, which eventually leads him to a different woman (Rose Byrne) who claims that her name is also Lisa. It turns out that her name is really Alex, and she has an ulterior motive to keep Matt and Lisa apart. The jigsaw puzzle of a story weaves a web of obsession, and every character appears to be stalking someone else.

Fresh-faced Hartnett seems awkward in the lead role, which probably demands someone slightly older (think Vincent Cassel of the original). Essentially playing himself as always, Matthew Lillard somehow gives the most memorable performance in the film as Matt's best friend Luke.

Screenwriter Brandon Boyce substantially retains the characters and the scenes from L'Appartement, but inevitably simplifies and demystifies their complexity for North American consumption. He maintains the original's effective structure that constantly shifts time and perspective, and then patronizingly goes on to explain all the twists and turns to a degree that is totally unnecessary. In an attempt to dumb down the story further, Boyce sacrifices the original's murder-mystery subplot involving Lisa's widowed stalker. Although that character remains in the film, he has been reduced to relative insignificance.

Director Paul McGuigan infuses a few gracefully layered images, making even split-screens pleasing to the eye. But he ultimately utilizes this device too infrequently, despite the fact that it works wonders with the film's fragmented storytelling.

McGuigan seems to be on autopilot the rest of the time, duplicating scenarios from L'Appartement while completely missing the point. The original pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock classics such as Vertigo, Rear Window and Strangers on a Train and while some of those elements remain in Wicker Park, the director leaves an impression that he is oblivious to the Hitchcockian references in Mimouni's version. To make matters worse, the film blasts an ill-conceived pop-rock soundtrack with placid guitars slowly strumming away what little suspense remains.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.