Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts
Famous rock star Marianne Lane (Swinton) and her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Schoenaerts) are on a holiday on an idyllic Italian Island when unexpectedly an old friend of theirs, Harry (Fiennes) arrives with his estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Extreme levels of passion and jealously then ensue between the four with the levels of tension only continuously increasing.
As laughably terrible as Jaws: The Revenge is, I am of no doubt that Michael Caine enjoyed his free holiday in The Bahamas that he got while filming. While A Bigger Splash is of course a much better film than Jaws: The Revenge, but there is no escaping the fact that all involved probably also enjoyed their all expenses holiday in the exotic location that the film is set and this was the dominant thought it in my mind after watching a film that does truly test the tolerance and patience of the viewer.
Luca Guadagnino’s film is most certainly a visual feast for the eyes that unashamedly uses the breath taking scenery of its setting to maximum effect, but also where all four main characters are happy to constantly get their kit off. There is no doubting that it is an effective examination of human desire and those primal desires that do ultimately often drive our actions such as jealousy, rage, desire and lust. This certainly produces many effectively sexually charged scenes brimming with tension and intrigue, but at over two hours the film is way too self-indulgent and tests the patience of the viewer way too much to be any more than an average and particularly shallow and forgettable film.
In isolation, acting on the aforementioned primal instincts and feelings could make the four characters relatable and engaging, but the self-indulgent and ill-disciplined narrative and running time just means we spend way too much time with four deeply unlikeable characters, and it means that A Bigger Splash is a real laborious watch. The narrative ill-discipline only then serves to make the stunning visuals feel even more self-indulgent, and ultimately alienating for the viewer. The whole overall experience that this produces just serves to make it feel like all involved are having a great time and do not actually care about the good honest cinema goer that pays to see this film.
This is a shame, as with more rigorous discipline A Bigger Splash could have been a really enjoyable guilty pleasure that allows the audience to embrace its characters. Characters that demonstrate unlikeable characteristics can be engaging if these are depicted in the appropriate context, but A Bigger Splash misses the mark quite spectacularly. If it were not for the performances which undoubtedly elevate the material then A Bigger Splash would truly feel like a promotional film for the Italian tourist industry.
A Bigger Splash truly does waste the acting talent it has its disposal; Ralph Fiennes’ character is easily the most unlikeable in terms of overall personality, but Fiennes’ natural screen charisma manages to make him by far the most intriguing element of the film, and also most relatable character. It is purely down to Fiennes’ exceptional performance that the film’s best and most engaging scenes are the ones with Harry in them due to the depth, intensity and charisma (not to mention some interesting dancing) that Fiennes solely brings to his character.
Tilda Swinton is of course always excellent, and is once again exceptional. Her character cannot speak due to just having a throat operation, so she is forced to rely on gesticulation, expressions and body language, but she also excels. However Matthias Schoenaerts is essentially forced to play the straight man to Fiennes’ clown, and though he has proved to be a charismatic screen presence on many occasions (he is in A LOT of films at the moment), he is very forgettable here and a little miscast. Likewise Dakota Johnson seems to be getting more big roles since Fifty Shades of Grey, but I cannot help but feel this is just cynical casting to get more people to watch this film as she lacks the range to truly depict both the brooding sexuality and internal vulnerability and naivety that her character shows.
As the film enters its final third the plot becomes farcical and laughable, and it also takes way too long to unfold. This may have been affective and provided genuine tension intrigue if what preceded it been better, but it just makes the whole thing even more boring and uninvolving. Ultimately A Bigger Splash is a film that somehow manages to be even shallower than its four protagonists and even more forgettable.
For anyone who wants to see a director and cast enjoying an all-expenses paid holiday, A Bigger Splash is very effective, but for most normal cinema goers it is a smug, self-indulgent, alienating and ill-disciplined film that wastes the talents of some of its great cast members.