TimeOut, August 25, 2004, by Nigel Floyd

Mad World

Colin Firth enters the disturbing universe of Marc Evans in mixed-up thriller ‘Trauma’

Unshaven an distracted, Ben (Colin Firth) steps into the Lower Marsh street market, just below Waterloo Station. Glancing to his left, he sees a silent wall of people staring fixedly at him, as if frozen in time. Suddenly, as if in response to some silent cue, the onlookers start to move. Confused and panicky, Ben lurches towards them, pushing his way through the crowd. In the background uniformed Police Video Unit officers discreetly capture his movements on digital video cameras.

Levels of reality shift and slide as gawping lunchtime shoppers and paid film extras mingle. The shoppers have stumbled upon the filming of a scene for Marc Evans’ ‘Trauma’, in which Firth’s character stumbles in turn upon a police re-enactment of murdered pop diva Lauren Paris’s last known movements. A shop sign in the background reads 20-20 Vision, but neither the shoppers nor the bewildered Ben can believe the evidence of their own eyes.

 A Polanski-esque thriller, ‘Trauma’ will force the audience to share this sense of disorientation. At the beginning of the film, Ben wakes up in a coma after a car crash that has killed his wife Elisa (Naomi Harris). His world is in chaos, and fiction starts to blend with reality. Is his wife really dead? Or is something more sinister going on?

‘We’re never really sure what Ben’s seeing and what he’s imagining,’ the personable Firth tells me later, over a Formica table in the film’s lunch bus. ‘We’re not sure whether we’re dealing with ghosts or the products of his own imagination.’

Marc Evans’ ‘My Little Eye’ coldly observed the antics of five American wannabes through the objective, unblinking lenses of the CCTV cameras of a ‘Big Brother’-style house. For ‘Trauma’, he has gone to the opposite extreme. ‘We’ve tried to be as free and experimental as we can with Ben’s subjective point of view,’ explains an excited Evans between takes. ‘So there’s a tapestry of shots that make you understand the main character, Ben’s mental instability. The trick is that you should like Ben, and feel for him, but still not be sure whether you can trust him or not.’

‘This is going to kill off Darcy once and for all,’ jokes Evans, referring to Firth’s swoon-inducing portrayal of the eligible bachelor in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Firth is not averse to that idea, hoping that ‘Trauma’ will remind audiences of other more challenging roles: as an amoral Nazi doctor opposite Kenneth Branagh in the TV drama ‘Conspiracy’; or as a disillusioned Falklands soldier in ‘Tumbledown’. ‘In some ways,’ Firth says, ‘”Trauma” is like going back to something that was my kind of territory in the early days. It’s a departure from the romantic comedies I’ve been known for over the past few years. But when I did “Pride and Prejudice”, absolutely everybody told me I couldn’t play that part, that I must be out of my mind.’

Cast opposite Firth is Mena Suvari, who, despite the ‘heat’ generated by her role in ‘American Beauty’, and just losing out to Kirsten Dunst for the female lead in ‘Spider-Man’, prefers the edginess of independent movies such as ‘Spun’ and ‘Trauma’. Suvari’s mysterious character Charlotte, is an ethereally beautiful guardian angel: ‘Charlotte has all these New Age ideas. She’s really into reiki, spiritual healing, crystals and things like that. But she’s also someone who just gives and gives and gives; she picks up on people’s pain and she just wants to give comfort.’

Before Ben can be saved, however, he plunges into the disorientating mental maelstrom generated by his guilt over his wife’s death. ‘Our film,’ says Evans, ‘is about the ultimate form of loneliness, which is madness. For me, that’s the essence of horror; when the door on that part of your brain or subconscious that is supposed to be shut, is suddenly ajar.’

Photography Brian Griffin (for TimeOut at the Old Operating Theatre, London Bridge, October 10, 2003)

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