The Luzhin Defence

"Very Good"

The Luzhin Defence Review


Early on in the period drama The Luzhin Defence, Emily Watson's Natalia proclaims that she wants something different, and that's just what we get through most of this adaptation, based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel of chess and madness. But as acclaimed director Marleen Gorris (Mrs. Dalloway) takes us toward the vital final act, that sense of originality seems to fade.

Luckily, we are saved throughout by Watson's performance. As a woman vacationing with her pesky mother in 1920s Italy, she stumbles upon eccentric, pained, chess genius Alexander Luzhin, or more accurately, he stumbles upon her. Luzhin, played by a solid and risk-taking John Turturro, is disheveled and awkward, the kind of absent-minded obsessive that draws stares of both scorn and jealousy. Watson and Turturro, both at the top of their talents, create a sort of Romeo and Juliet -- he's reckless and unkempt, she's proper and well-mannered.

Both actors tell most of the inner story with their faces, filling the screen with hope, confusion, and understanding. As Turturro delivers his clipped one-syllable answers, and Watson brings a fuller, more human bloom to their relationship, we may be cynical of their union, but not necessarily doubtful. They sell it with a stare or a blink at just the right moment.

And Gorris knows just when to take advantage of that skill, especially with well-timed reaction shots of Watson (who, by the way, has been nothing short of heartbreaking in nearly every film in which she's appeared). Gorris, working from Peter Berry's screenplay, develops some well-formed parallels between Luzhin's present situation and his problematic childhood. There's the occasional evocative edit, but she also does it with design, wardrobe, and color.

We're kept intrigued through the first hour-plus: the strangeness of the master chess champion, the reasons for Natalia loving him, his unique idea of courting, his participation in a world championship tournament. But as we're led toward the finale, the plot gets simplistic, and the actors seem unsure of what to do with it. It seems as if the excitement of the unexpected was a strong motivator, perhaps leading to varied interpretations. That seems lost toward the couple's final resolution.

Gorris seems to lose some motivation as well, treating some of the larger dramatic moments with too heavy a hand -- setting the camera at an angle needlessly, trumpeting the "important" musical theme, giving too much to the drama of it all (Luzhin seeing visions from his childhood during a stressful match is especially silly).

But when she's smart enough to tone it down, which is most of the film, the visuals can be satisfying. One of recurring interest is a life-sized chess game, being played at the resort where the action takes place. As guests strain to lift huge playing pieces, it's obvious that the smaller version of the game is just as taxing to Luzhin and Natalia. Turturro and Watson carry that through the film successfully, but the endgame is far from checkmate.

Pawn advances.



The Luzhin Defence

Facts and Figures

Run time: 109 mins

In Theaters: Friday 8th September 2000

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Fresh: 41 Rotten: 30

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Aleksandr Ivanovich 'Sascha' Luzhin, as Natalia Katkov, as Vera, Natalia's Mother

Contactmusic


Links


Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.