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Gosford Park (2001)
star
 Reviewed 2002-02-03: If I don't like Gosford Park, does that make me a Marxist? I ask the question only because I am asked by this 137-minute Robert Altman film to be interested in "upstairs" characters, who have not a thing of value to offer to improve the human condition, and to identify with "downstairs" characters, who ostensibly represent the nobility of the working class while hypocritically yearning to be the nobility themselves. Admittedly, the downstairs characters give keener insights into the human condition, but that's probably because their concerns are one with my own. How many of us will ever become afflicted with the concerns of the idle rich?

The story, set in the English countryside, contrasts the upstairs-downstairs worlds on the occasion of a shooting party thrown by Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas). There were the expected excellent performances from Helen Mirren and Emily Watson (downstairs) and Maggie Smith (upstairs). The critics almost unanimously praised this film as a perceptive dissection of the two worlds (Altman won a Golden Globe), one that is deceptively packaged as a murder mystery. Maybe that's why I was so disappointed: I saw Gosford Park as a film for which I waited 75 minutes before anything happened. At least I didn't fall asleep.

But it was a struggle. No, not a class struggle, though 1932 would be a year for it. Not much of a murder mystery, either, since the perpetrators were pretty obvious. Not even much of a look into upper crust vis vis crumb-scraper social stratification: it's been done before and done better. I felt as if I had climbed a mountain and reached a barren plain. Too many characters; too little sense.

I might have perked up if the bumbling detective (Stephen Fry) had actually solved the mystery; or if the dog had done it; or if I could find something -- anything -- clever in the script. My movie companion loved the film. So did Roger Ebert, and I usually agree with him. But most American critics are far too generous in praising foreign films, and that often rubs off on PBS-like British period pieces such as this. Gosford Park, in spite of itself, glorifies an upper class that could not exist without the class it looks down upon. Maybe that view makes me an anti-capitalist, anti-royalist bolshevist. But I walked out of the theater not sure what the film was about. And not sure I cared.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me!



Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.
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