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A Cure for Wellness – Review


Release Date: 24 February 2017
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writer: Justin Haythe [From a story by Gore Verbinski & Justin Haythe]
Cast: Dane DeHaan – Mia Goth – Jason Isaacs – Celia Imrie – Harry Groener



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Posted February 26, 2017 by

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A Cure For Wellness Review:

A Cure for Wellness sets itself up as an urban morality tale without much morality or much of a tale. It is 146 minutes of pure misjudged enterprise, desperately – and I mean desperately – in need of the fantastical to justify its length. It is like a Terry Gilliam movie without any of Gilliam’s flights of fancy, giddy delight in horror, and good taste.

Dane DeHaan is an oval-faced, Paddington Bear-intense, feather-light leading man in the Giovanni Ribisi-mould. Whatever his characters face, you know they will be overwhelmed. In the right role, opposite a charismatic co-star, for example Aubrey Plaza in Life After Beth, he can shine. Here he is not just required to carry the movie, but to give it regular bursts of CPR. The task is beyond him.

DeHaan plays Lockhart, a Wall Street stockbroker whose amazing deal was achieved under dubious circumstances. He is successful, but we are led to believe, bends the rules. To save his career, he is despatched by his company to a spa in Switzerland to retrieve one of the company’s board members, Pembroke (Harry Groener) who has some explaining to do ahead of a very important meeting, or some such McGuffin. The twist – not much of one – is that Pembroke, after a fashion, does not want to leave, and Lockhart, who had impersonated Pembroke to try to find him, is admitted as a patient. He forms an odd relationship with Hannah (the waif-like Mia Goth, all eyeliner and vacant stares) and discovers a sinister plot being hatched by the spa’s director, Volmer (Jason Isaacs).

It is not long ago that cinemagoers got the spa treatment in Paolo Sorrentino’s 2015 film Youth, a meditation on creativity and old age. Sorrentino was sensitive to the surreal. He is a conjuror of amazing images and surreal comedy. Verbinski, who is best known for the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and the animated western, Rango – a film which grows on you – is not. He has a misplaced belief that a group of old people engaged in synchronised medicine ball manipulation in a swimming pool is somehow creepy. He and David Lynch ought to have words. Verbinski has such a mistaken belief in his material that buying a ticket for the movie seems like a charitable act. The film is about a recovery centre in which its residents become less well and the same seems to happen to Verbinski himself, who resorts to dramatic leaps of faith to keep the plot moving.

The British actor Jason Isaacs has his biggest role in a movie in years. Looking at him, clearly past his prime, you wonder why he didn’t have Daniel Craig’s career. He plays the caricatured middle European cultivated gent who of course wouldn’t do anything to harm his guests even if the water seems to have living organisms in it. By the end of the film, he falls in with retrograde Brit villain behaviour. Where are Isaac’s standards?

If there is a hoary cliché that Verbinski can resurrect, he will dump it on the ground and spread it with a spade. Lockhart has a hallucination in which he imagines Hannah in a bath with eels. At one point, he calls a Swiss thug ‘Adolf’. (Didn’t he know Hitler was Austrian? Who cares?) There is a mysterious character, Victoria (Celia Imrie) shunned by the other guests who leaves Lockhart a clue. (Why didn’t she doesn’t tell him?) Lockhart has his own guilt-inducing trauma to face. At one point, he tells the elderly guests that they are being poisoned and they turn on him like zombies. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, there is an attempted rape scene.

The problem with these middle-European clichés is that they are a creative strait-jacket. Characters are placed in vertical embalming tubes, like the crew of the Nostromo in Alien and we are supposed to be wowed or horrified. You wonder what this has to do with Wall Street. Does the film peddle the fantasy that merchant bankers all seek self-destruction? If there is a satiric point, it is filed away in the bottom drawer and forgotten about.

Movie titles can be misleading. After all, who amongst the former A-listers inThe Expendables was got rid of – except for the sequel? Why is Lethal Weapon so special? You wouldn’t want a non-lethal weapon, like a newspaper. So there is no Cure for Wellness here. A cure for insomnia, maybe.


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Larry Oliver
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