US, 2007, 109 minutes, Colour.
Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Portnow, Gary Dourdan.
Directed by James Foley.
A bit of a surprise to see on the poster that Halle Berry is billed before Bruce Willis. But, these days he appears in quite a few films in cameo roles (Alpha Dog, Fast Food Nation, The Astronaut Farmer). This time it is a supporting role to Halle Berry. It is definitely her film.
This is a glossy whodunnit – and it is best to suggest that one should wait to the end before being too sure that you have worked out who is the murderer! It is something like a mixture of a New York Mills and Boon romance, something out of Cosmopolitan or its like by someone who had been reading their Agatha Christie.
There is a problem for older audiences – it presupposes a great deal about computer literacy, chat rooms as well as hacking which may be a bit bewildering for those on the older side of the computer use divide. They may find the chat sequences a little tedious. However, this is 2007 and this is what many people do.
Halle Berry as Rowena looks very glamorous as an investigative journalist who has no scruples in exposing double standards politicians and their sex scandals. She feels victimised by the male world order. When her childhood friend is brutally murdered, she targets bullying and womanising advertising executive, Bruce Willis. She is aided and abetted by her technical whiz, Giovanni Ribisi.
There are some flashbacks to some brutality in Rowena’s past which may explain some of what goes on and her motivation. Actually, we find that anonymity for chat rooms and false identities means that people have many secrets and lies.
Not particularly startling except for Halle Berry’s screen presence and Giovanni Ribisi’s eccentric and manic character – and the ending.
1.Popular mystery? police investigations?
2.The New York locations? The offices, the restaurants, apartments? Affluent background? The advertising agency? The musical score?
3.The film’s reliance on audiences’ familiarity with computers, computer technology, hacking, the chat rooms, communication, sexual advances, anonymity, communication and non-communication? Perfect strangers communicating?
4.The director is said to have filmed three endings and chosen the present one. How does the film stand in the retrospect of the solution? Rowena and her character, motivations, behaviour? Did the screenplay cheat by focusing attention elsewhere, or did it give sufficient clues? The possibility that Miles was the murderer? Harrison Hill’s wife? Possibilities and probabilities?
5.The introduction to Rowena, at the senate, her pass, her talking to Senator Sachs, Family First? The interview, her cover, the photos, the captions, the gradual revelation about the truth of the senator, her writing the story, emotional blackmail? Her getting the story – taping him? Miles getting the information? The editors, the story, the restaurant and the fact that the story would be pulled? Senator Sachs and his influence? The irony of later seeing that he was making election bids? Rowena and her comment about a man’s world, male domination? (And a motivation for her actions?)
6.Rowena, the flashbacks of her story, at different points of the film? The encounter with Grace in the subway station? Her memories of her mother, her father’s abusiveness towards herself, her mother’s violence? Burying the body? Her going to visit her mother in the institution? A dutiful daughter?
7.Miles, his computer skills, dating or not, the revelation of his relationship with Grace, the photos? His abilities at hacking, altering information on computers, getting secret databases? The interest in Harrison Hill? Getting into his computer? His assisting Rowena, the credit for the articles? His friendship, his watching Rowena with Cameron? Prurient? His sending the text and Harrison Hill finding it? At home, his surveillance, Rowena finding his room, her voice, the photos? The reality that Miles could have been the murderer? Suspicious all the time? The final confrontation with Rowena, his explaining the truth, her killing him?
8.Harrison Hill, womaniser, his reputation, his marriage? His relationship with his wife? Flirting with the secretaries? Going on line, the chat rooms? The nature of the chat, sexually provocative (and Rowena inventing it, Miles intruding and contributing to it)? His physically hurting the spy from the competitive firm, throwing him out? His assistants? Esmeralda, the tall assistant? His work, meetings? His chatting up Rowena, inviting her to the bar, her decision to go after teasing him? Talk, her taunts about his wife? His continued communication? Her being in his office, her plausible story about the daiquiris, his believing her? His being framed, his being arrested, in court? The connection with Grace and the chat room? The circumstantial evidence? The poison, Grace’s eyes? His wife and her art, the poison?
9.Rowena and her personal life, her pseudonyms, her ability to go under cover? Her relationship with Cameron – and her disappointment with him, the possibility that he had fathered a child? Her attack on him? Her relationship with Miles, his infatuation, her not responding? Her using him? Any attraction towards Harrison Hill?
10.Grace, the story of the past, observing the burial of the body? Her giving Rowena leads for stories? The lead for Harrison Hill? The chat rooms? Her murder, Rowena talking to her mother and reassuring her, going to the morgue and identifying the body? The information about her pregnancy, the poison in her eyes?
11.Hill’s wife, the opening credits and the final credits, the paintings and the enlargement of the eyes? The belladonna? Her presence in court? The possibility of her being the killer?
12.The police, Rowena giving them information, their arresting Harrison Hill?
13.Rowena, the revelation of the truth, her controlling everything, wanting to get rid of Grace? The information about the computers, her leading Miles on, getting the evidence for Hill, getting vengeance on men, especially the womanising man unfaithful to his wife? Her playing up to Hill? Her letting him be tried? The irony of her killing Miles, setting him up as if he were the killer and sending the message about Hill?
14.The background characters, in the offices, at the advertising agency, the police?
15.The finale, the truth about Rowena – and the man looking through the window at what she had done? An Agatha Christie-style revelation of the killer?