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Variety (Sept 15, 2009, by Todd McCarthy)

Oliver Parker takes a meat cleaver to Oscar Wilde yet again in "Dorian Gray," a film as coarse and crude as its source material is refined and sublime. To paraphrase the great Irish scribe himself, the picture is a monstrous corruption, more at home stylistically in the bloody vicinity of Elm Street or Hammer Studios than in the loftier realms of distinguished literary adaptations, film festivals or the earlier incarnation of Ealing Studios. Having opened theatrically on Sept. 9 in the U.K., the pic looks more like DVD and cable fodder in most other markets, including Stateside.

There are three good things in this latest version of Wilde's only novel: Colin Firth, who tosses off the vast majority of the script's appropriated witticisms with seasoned aplomb; Rebecca Hall, who singlehandedly revives the moribund enterprise with a jolt of vitality in the final reels; and the painting itself, which is stunningly rendered.

Otherwise, Parker goes for the jugular, literally, splashing blood all around the famous story of an exquisite young man whose devil's bargain allows him to retain his beauty and lead a life of depraved debauchery while his portrait ages hideously in an attic. It's as if the director envisioned a companion piece to "Sweeney Todd," but with a porno-worthy synth score rather than Stephen Sondheim.

Taken under wing by Firth's vicarious libertine, Lord Henry Wooton, and tutored to "be searching always for new sensations," Dorian (Ben Barnes) seduces, then discards the girl he truly loves, Sybil Vane (Rachel Hurd-Wood), to pursue the sybaritic life made possible by his looks. The assorted orgy montages look as appealing as outtakes from a Plato's Retreat documentary, and while Barnes ("The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian") indisputably rates in the high percentiles in the looks department, he doesn't exude the ineffable cockiness and jaded sense of perennial entitlement of a born Don Juan.

Struggling a bit with an unbecoming beard, Firth pretends not to notice the vulgarity surrounding him while impersonating Wilde's epigrammatic surrogate. Having previously pruned the charms of both "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "An Ideal Husband," Parker will seemingly now be obliged to train his sights on other eminent dramatists for his adaptations; George Bernard Shaw and Noel Coward, beware.

The Times (Sept 13, 2009, by Cosmo Landesman) - 1 out of 5 stars

Ben Barnes plays Dorian Gray in Oliver Parker’s pointless and ponderous neogothic fable, an adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel about a young man who has everything—beauty, eternal youth and fame—and loses it all. The innocent and good-hearted Gray comes to London and is subjected to the endless epigrams and bons mots of Henry Wotton (Colin Firth)—enough to drive anyone to drink, drugs, sex orgies and murder, and that’s exactly what happens to dear Dorian. The film—which manages to make Dorian’s descent into decadence a dull and joyless experience—is actually a piece of moralistic melodrama. Barnes can act, but his Dorian lacks any depth; like his subject, he comes over as just a pretty face.

The Hollywood Reporter (Sept 12, 2009, by Peter Brunette)

Bottom Line: Worthy film can't decide whether it's a literary adaptation or a horror flick.

One of the most cinematically popular of all the works of professional fop and serious literary artist, Oscar Wilde, “Dorian Gray” is upon us once again. Much wilder if not more Wildean, this new version by Britisher Oliver Parker professes to re-interpret the novel on which it's based, and it surely accomplishes that.

Whether or not the re-interpretation is always successful is another question entirely, but superb production values and imaginative, vigorous camerawork, music, and editing should carry the film a long way. It's not exactly clear who the audience is for this occasionally subtle literary adaptation that also aspires, almost against its will, to be a horror movie, but it deserves to find an audience somewhere. Ancillary sales should be much less ambiguous.

The timeless morality tale concerns a beautiful young man from the provinces newly arrived in London. Taken under the corrupt wing of Lord Henry Wotton (Firth), who sprinkles decadent Wildean bons mots on Dorian (Ben Barnes) like pixie dust, the pupil begins quickly to surpass his master in the amoral pursuit of pleasure before all else.

The story's high concept is that when Dorian's portrait is painted on his arrival, a pact is made with the devil that ensures that the model will always remain fresh and young, no matter how dissolute his life becomes, while the telltale portrait, hidden away in the attic, ages and becomes horrifically deformed.

The excellent musical score recalls Hitchcockian motifs, most notably that of “Vertigo,” and adds nicely to the overall mysterious flavor of the proceedings. Parker's approach is always to accentuate the visceral, whether it's the gobs of impasto paint applied by the portrait artist, or Dorian's frequent voluptuous forays into the world of raw sensuality.

Naturally, this kind of approach slows things down a bit, and some viewers who don't fancy themselves as aesthetes (in other words, who don't like the very essence of Wilde's work) may find their patience being tried. Dedicated if not decadent aesthetes will, on the other hand, revel in the sensuousness of virtually everything connected with this film.

The portrait itself is the most problematic element of the film. In the 1945 version starring Hurd Hatfield, we only saw the painting at the very end, presumably to be stunned by its suddenly unveiled depiction of an old and ugly man. In Parker's version newer CGI techniques are perhaps overused, as we see the portrait again and again, each time animated with more and more squirming maggots, wounds appearing before our eyes, and in a final paroxysm of software, Dorian's entire writhing body rendered as a kind of a hologram that pops out of its frame. It is at these points that the film veers most dangerously toward becoming a horror movie, pure and simple.

Lots of things that were not in Wilde's original treatment find their way into the film, such as Dorian's flashbacks to a brutalized childhood, various murders, strong hints of sado-masochism, homosexual encounters, and, perhaps the most entertaining, a moment of intercourse with a debutante daughter, followed by intercourse with her mother, while the girl cowers under the bed. But a good argument can be made that these extrapolations in no way distort Wilde's original, but in fact merely update it to a level that modern, jaded audiences will be able to find, in fact, decadent and upsetting.

The Independent (Sept 11, 2009, by Anthony Quinn) - 1 out of 5 stars

For Oliver Parker to have made one Oscar Wilde adaptation (An Ideal Husband) could be considered a misfortune.

To have made another (The Importance of Being Earnest) looks like carelessness. To be responsible for a third (it has been shortened from The Picture of Dorian Gray) perhaps deserves a smack. Ben Barnes is the handsome but drippy eponym painted by Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) and led from innocence to depravity by the sybaratic Henry Wotton (Colin Firth). A swift transition, this: Dorian takes one puff on an opium pipe and suddenly becomes a cold-eyed seducer, pederast and murderer. The location work is fine (Witanhurst on Highgate Hill gives the best performance), but Parker's staging and direction are hopelessly inert; the orgy scenes are knocked off from Eyes Wide Shut, while the later movement into darkness looks (and sounds) like a cheap slasher movie. The Wildean wit, needless to say, has not survived the transition.

The Scotsman (Sept 11, 2009, by Alistair Harkness) - 1 out of 4 stars

Given we're living in the midst of a venal, vanity-driven celebrity culture where fame is treated as a goal in itself and Botox and Photoshop offer quick-fix solutions to combat the irrational fear of ageing, the timing should be perfect for a decent cinematic adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Detailing its protagonist's Faustian pact to preserve his youthful perfection with a painting that ages while he indulges his every vice, Wilde's tale offered up a potent metaphor for the soul-corrupting costs of such behaviour that remains as relevant today as it ever was. What a shame, then, that Dorian Gray, the latest stab at Wilde from Brit filmmaker Oliver Parker (he previously adapted An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest for the big screen), offers up only the most literal interpretation of Wilde's story, using it as the basis for an unintentionally campy period film that plays out like a vampire movie with no vampires....

Actually, Parker opts against showing us the picture too much. Just as all reference to it has been dropped from the film's title, it mostly remains hidden in Dorian's attic, its horrific nature gauged only on the faces of anyone unfortunate enough to come into contact with it. This is supposed to build up dramatic tension to a final unveiling, but this falls flat, thanks to Parker over-egging it with flashy changes in film stock and an intrusive, clanging score. Unfortunately, that also means the film leaves us with far too much time to focus on its soulless protagonist's descent into debauchery, something that exposes a chief problem with the film: namely, that it doesn't seem to know what to do with Wilde's source material.

Firth's pithy delivery of Wilde's best epigrams raises a few smiles; but mostly Dorian Gray inspires howls of derisory laughter as it tries to sex itself up with scenes of opium orgies, S&M sessions, man-on-man tongue-tussling and intergenerational seduction. Barnes is hopelessly bland and way out of his depth when it comes to this kind of thing. His startled acting style gives him the demeanour of a bunny in headlights, not a rabbit rutting for dear life. What's more, while he may be pretty as a picture (something that worked adequately for him as Prince Caspian in the last Chronicles of Narnia movie), he exudes about as much sex appeal as a piece of Ikea furniture. This is a role that demanded the kind of lascivious leeriness Johnny Depp brought to his portrayal of the Earl of Rochester in the furiously filthy The Libertine, not someone who makes Orlando Bloom seem like Jack Nicholson.

If Barnes is bad, Parker's clunky compositions, his fondness for throwing claret around and his tendency towards melodramatic plotting don't help. Working from a screenplay from first-timer Toby Finlay, the film diverges from the book by introducing Lord Henry's daughter, Emily, into the equation, using her as a last-act love interest, a salve for Dorian's conscience and a way to give Firth a more active role in bringing about the film's resolution.

Played with spiky authority by the excellent Rebecca Hall, her appearance momentarily lifts proceedings… until she's asked to fall for Barnes's Dorian, a feat even she can't fake convincingly. It's not her fault: the film and its star are against her. It's easy enough to see why he would suddenly fall for Emily as played by Hall, but rather more difficult to imagine what she could possibly see in Barnes's Dorian – unless her character's back-story as a suffragette has given her a taste for chaining herself to inanimate objects.

Parker tries to sustain interest with a ludicrous chase on the London Underground and some Grand Guignol effects work, but it's feeble stuff. Dorian's perma-perfection in the midst of his ageing counterparts should have been genuinely creepy and disturbing, not a cue for lots of Goth posturing. In the end, this has been slickly enough made to have the appearance of commercial viability, but it's all surface gloss and faux decadence, a pretty picture with no heart or soul, and a vacuous reminder of the artistic and intellectual sacrifices made in mid-level, publicly-funded British films in their pursuit of box-office booty. Perhaps some souls are withering away in the UK Film Council now.

The Guardian (Sept 11, 2009, by Peter Bradshaw) -

The posters make it look like a Twilight knockoff, but Oliver Parker's brash ­version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is rather different. It has the style of a Hammer shocker from decades ago; Wilde's romance is caricatured, certainly, but the whole thing is socked over with gusto. Toby Finlay's adapted screenplay has some clever new plot inventions and there's a great turn from Colin Firth as the ­debauched aesthete Lord Henry Wotton....Parker has made a name for himself with Wilde adaptations. This is the least respectful and the most fun.

The Times (Sept 11, 2009, by Kevin Maher) - 2 out of 5 stars

Like Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha (in which Keanu Reeves played Siddhartha) Dorian Gray is one of those rare prestige pictures scuppered by its leading man. For, despite a classic source novel (Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray), some neat formal flourishes from its director Oliver Parker and a truly handsome supporting turn from Colin Firth, this story demands a more versatile and charismatic central player than the powerfully blank Ben Barnes.

He was previously blank with a sword in the blockbuster Prince Caspian and jazzy blank in the mannered failure Easy Virtue. Here Barnes does pansexual blank, playing the eponymous anti-hero, newly arrived to London and beguiled by the local epicurean know-all Lord Wotton (Firth). The latter, delivering all the best aphorisms (“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it”), draws Dorian into the Faustian bargain that allows him immortality at the expense of his humanity. This inevitably translates as bedding both men and women, old and young, and hammering to death lines such as: “I, am, a, god!” Truly dispiriting.

The Daily Mail (Sept 11, 2009, by A. Nonymous) - 1 out of 5 stars

Oliver Parker's plodding, lacklustre and ultimately disastrous costume drama is like a genteel, unsexy parody of the worst Hammer horrors of the 1970s. To have succeeded, this picture needed a young Johnny Depp to encapsulate Dorian's exquisite handsomeness concealing a depraved and cruel mind; what it gets is Britain's drippiest leading actor.

Ben Barnes is even more hopelessly at sea here than he was in Prince Caspian, where he was acted off the screen by a mouse. I know he has his fans among teenage girls with posters of him on their walls, and no doubt they are, while reading this, preparing to bombard me with hate mail. But this good-looking chap is wasted in movies: he should be modelling Calvin Klein or comfortable knitwear. He makes Roger Moore at his most planklike look like Daniel Day Lewis. Casting banal, boring Barnes opposite people who really can act
such as Colin Firth as Gray's Mephistophelean mentor Lord Henry Wotton, and Rebecca Hall as a love interest not in the bookis like tossing dead wood on a fire to see if it will burn.

A film about people selling their souls in order to remain young and beautiful should have been topical. But the film fudges this, and makes fashionable but ill-considered additions to Oscar Wilde's classic novel, such as flashbacks to reveal that Dorian was, as a child, physically abused. This seemed to me to have no relevance to the book, and never comes to anything anyway. This is not Wilde. It's tame and dreary, with no energy, suspense or horror. When the picture of Dorian's demonic soul is finally uncovered, it resembles not so much evil incarnate as the late Max Wall.

Heaven knows at whom this film is aimed. If I may paraphrase Oscar, this is the unbearable in pursuit of the unboreable.

Verdict: You'll feel as though you aged 20 years

Telegraph (Sept 10, 2009, by Tim Robey) - 3 out 5 stars

The painting is the star of Oliver Parker’s Dorian Gray. It looks suggestively blurred, almost out of focus. Wait
are those bags under its eyes? Suddenly, they look bloodshot. Then a maggot wriggles out from behind one to be stamped underfoot, and everyone’s favourite Victorian libertine, Dorian (Ben Barnes), decides it might be better off in the attic.
Parker has some handy digital effects at his disposal, and a sterling Sir Henry in the shape of Colin Firth, whose barked advice makes him come over as caddish and envious, like a bitter Mephistopheles. I agree with the novelist Jeffrey Eugenides that Lord Henry is the “real engine” of Wilde’s book.

There are good things here, good scenes, and more than we might have expected from Parker, turning it in between St Trinian’s films.

Toby Finlay’s screenplay pumps up the homoeroticism
Dorian has a pretty clear idea how to keep the portraitist Basil Hallward (Ben Chaplin) under his, er, thumb. Beyond mildly risqué bisexual assignations, the filmmaking isn’t terribly adventurous, but cinematographer Roger Pratt (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) gives it an inky opulence, and it’s quite watchable.

We could complain that Barnes is a somewhat vanilla hellraiser, and more boyishly handsome than impossibly beautiful. He’s too much of an ingénu at the start. But, let’s face it, it could have been worse. It could have been Orlando Bloom.

RTÉ  Entertainment (Sept 9, 2009, by Taragh Loughrey-Grant) - 2 out of 5 stars

[...] Magic portrait aside, it all sounds a bit tweeand it is. Yet it shouldn't be, given the original source material. While the timing could not be more apt, tapping into our surgery and youth-obsessed culture, the film is not scary enough to appeal to teen horror fans or dramatic enough to be gripping. This 'Dorian Gray' pales in comparison to Wilde's original or indeed director Albert Lewin's 1945 film adaptation 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. Parker has overindulged in Gray's hedonistic days with the result that the film, and its audience, need a detox after all the gratuitous sex, drugs and Victorian style 'RocknRolla'.

Barnes was indeed the perfect looking actor for the role, however his continuous Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde routine from innocent to evil is unconvincing, especially considering the heinous acts his character commits. Halfway through it's difficult to care about his soul, his looks, his anything, except perhaps his demise - hardly ideal when the title character becomes irritating one hour into a two-hour film. However, Barnes is ably supported by Firth, who leads his character down the wayward path and Chaplin, who tries to lead him in the right direction, taking in the odd self-serving detour. Hall makes the most of her short but memorable role as the one person capable of helping Gray, as does the wonderful Irish actress Shaw, as Wotton's aunt.

As these film stills indicate, Parker's cinematography and lighting are dark, aided by a foggy mist hanging over every scene, both indoors and out. The budget obviously didn't stretch to cover decent special effects or diverse locations. The same lack of subtly extends to the imagery, with little left to the imagination.

In these cash-short, time-rich times, both would be better spent digging out the Oscar-winning 1945 version. Whether for entertainment or exam purposes, actor Hurd Hatfield's picture of 'Dorian Gray' is your only man.

Time Out London (Sept 8, 2009, by Dave Calhoun) - 2 out of 5 stars

Unlike ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ or ‘An Ideal Husband’, whose Wildean theories are buried deeper beneath their stories, ‘Dorian Gray’ is a book of more explicit, often difficult ideas.

So it’s no surprise that Oliver Parker (‘St Trinians’), in his third Wilde film adaptation, has stripped out some of the more heady debates about art, beauty and the like, not least because he’s aiming for the sort of younger audience attracted by the casting of Ben Barnes (from the recent ‘Narnia’ films) as Gray. So the focus is on the surface narrative of Wilde’s novel: Gray’s ascent in London society on the arm of Lord Henry Wotton (Colin Firth) and his later descent on the arm of his own vanity as he sinisterly fails to age while a youthful portrait of himself in his attic turns into a painting of an elderly ogre.

What newcomer Toby Finlay’s sometimes daring script brings to the party is both a shift in time so that the story ends in the early 1920s and the addition of a possible redemptive love interest in the person of Emily Wotton (Rebecca Hall), Lord Henry’s daughter, and a stick with which the story tries to beat her Machiavellian father for his earlier misdeeds. These are interesting ideas, but they would work better if there was more decadence on show earlier on to nail Gray’s corruption: his initial flights of abandon in the city’s opium dens and brothels are not seedy enough and his rejection of his girlfriend Sybil (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is not as powerful or central as it should be (Hurd-Wood’s acting doesn’t help).

But things look up from the halfway point as Gray’s murder of an associate
and its dreadful effect on himis claustrophobic enough to convince, and the film is particularly interesting when presenting Dorian as a Victorian out of time, pitching him against the Edwardian age, the car and the suffrage movement. Barnes’s ability to handle his character’s strange psychological journey is limited: he’s upstaged by the painting itself, which doesn’t just age; it putrefies, maggots and all.

Film.com (Sept 7, 2009, by Lisa Keddie) - graded B

Bad, bad Barnes: Fans, be prepared for a huge shock to the system as Narnia hero Ben Barnes as devilish Dorian Gray matures before your very eyes into a deviant, arrogant and uglier version of the young man introduced at the beginning of this period drama. Indeed Gray's opening scene will prompt many gasps from the Barnes fan club, as he carries out an unspeakable act of violence. Reminiscent to a 'period Devils Advocate', there are slight alterations to Oscar Wilde's original work, The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1890), by screenwriter Toby Finlay that do not affect the enjoyment to be had out of this film about being fearless in life, as well as one of man's major sin: vanity.

One clear difference between the book and the film is Basil Hallward's (played by Ben Chaplin) infatuation with Dorian that is not as clearly represented or dwelled on as in the original. However, there is a wonderfully witty side played out, brilliantly captured by Colin Firth's scene-stealing portrayal as the tart and wicked Lord Henry Wotton. Firth is an absolute delight, toying with his prey in a period role that suits his measurable talents. Barnes is equally impressive, dispelling any initial doubts as to his casting in the lead, and it is thrilling to see him venturing as boldly as his character into the unknown, in terms of this career path. Leaving the security of the Disney fold was a wise move for such a young actor to avoid stereotyping that appears to dog, say, Zac Efron. By choosing roles wisely, Barnes's gamble appears to have paid off, progressing from the intriguing Easy Virtue, to a far sinister Dorian Gray.

The production has all the atmosphere of a classic gothic horror with gloomy East End streets of London, uninviting and cold buildings, and Gray's dungeon-styled attic. Director Oliver Parker who previously brought two Wilde stories to the screen (An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest) is ideally suited to recreating the menacing 1900 scenes in this film, and the uneasy sensation of high society debauchery spiralling out of control is ever present in parts as Parker's version has the freedom to explore just what would happen if you were allowed to do anything, without obvious consequences; to investigate what is right and what is wrong; and to demonstrate that the obsession with staying young and the secrets of eternal youth has always been a major issue with every generation past.

Such alluring topics will resonate with today's audiences, breathing fresh new life into Wilde's tale, and with a stellar cast in tow, Parker's film is a pleasing and thought-provoking adaptation to see.

Shadows on the Wall (Aug 7, 2009, by Rich Cline) - 2-1/2 stars

Oscar Wilde's classic novel is turned into a schlock horror movie, totally engulfed by gloomy atmosphere and over-the-top filmmaking. It's watchably cheesy, but completely lacks Wilde's incisive wit or observation....

This story is just as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1890; the obsession with youth can be seen in nipped/tucked faces everywhere. But this film only barely touches that theme, instead focussing on the supernatural freak-out of this menacing picture locked away in Dorian's attic, plus some airbrushed gothic porn and lots of grisly bloodletting. In many ways, it feels far more like a vampire movie than Wilde's dark social satire.

It's odd that Parker takes such a gothic approach for his third Wilde adaptation (after An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest). It allows him to create lots of atmospheric stylishness, with gliding camerawork and shadowy sets, plus characters that feel like Dickensian icons. And this heightened reality lets the actors add lots of dark theatricality.

Firth is especially good at this; his steely, sardonic performance is very nasty, and utterly riveting. Opposite him, everyone else seems a bit bland, including Barnes, who's more of a pretty boy than a tortured soul. Much of his inner torment is portrayed only through lurid nightmares and fake, excessively set-dressed hedonism. And he has very little chemistry with either Hurd-Wood or Hall, who are both very good.

But all of this undermines Dorian's character as a wanton hedonist. Basically, decadence has never looked less enjoyable on screen. The violence is twisted and grim, with tricks stolen from J-horror and a bizarrely homophobic undertone (the only gay scene is essentially a power-play rape). And as it approaches its B-movie conflagration finale, it feels even more soulless than Dorian himself.


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