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    Tangled web

    "Spider," David Cronenberg's grim exploration of a schizophrenic mind, features skilled acting from a veteran cast but its plot doesn't venture beyond the conventions of dysfunctional family dramas.


    Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, John Neville, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave — all great actors, some of whom rise to new heights in this David Cronenberg film. But even the spectacular acting does not turn "Spider" into something that can hold one's attention for very long. For all its intensity and Fiennes' heightened vulnerability, the dramatic moments are few and far between, leaving us waiting too long to be interested in the next firing of Spider's (Fiennes') synapses.

    Directed by: David Cronenberg.
    Written by: Patrick McGrath.
    Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, Miranda Richardson, Philip Craig.

    Related links: Official site
    Patrick McGrath's screenplay of his novel takes us on a journey through Spider's schizophrenic mind, a mind whose reality is both fluid and skewed, a mind that cannot express itself. The design concept (Andrew Sanders) emphasizes the isolation Spider feels when he returns home as a full-grown man after having been institutionalized from the age of 10. Spider emerges from his train ride home after everyone has left the platform. He finds his new lodging after walking down deserted streets and standing on a deserted sidewalk. The man is alone, in spite of the attempts of his new housemate and would-be friend, Terrence (John Neville), to engage him in conversation.

    We begin to learn of Spider's past as he finds his old London home and hangs about watching his younger self (Bradley Hall) interact with his parents. Hall is nervous and disturbed — he certainly holds his own among the acting heavyweights and is a thrill to watch. Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson are the unhappy couple charged with rearing their frail son Spider. As the stereotypical pubfly of a father, Bill Cleg neglects his wife and child, making for a sad mom and a very hurt little boy. In spite of the clichÄd family scenario, Byrne and Richardson succeed in imbuing their characters with the frustration and longing of very real people in 1960s working-class Britain.

    The twists and turns of the "plot" eventually lead to a possible reason for Spider to have severed his connection with reality and ended up in a mental hospital, but the present-day scenes are more "slice of life" than the makings of compelling drama. Even with the laser-focused performance of Ralph Fiennes, the honesty and comic cleverness of Miranda Richardson and the freshness of Bradley Hall, Cronenberg was unable to shape the screenplay into the haunting tale it is meant to be. We are left on a directionless trek, and, like Spider's mind, this movie is unable to force its intentions to the surface.

    MARCH 5, 2003

    Reader comments on Spider:

  • bravo!   from Catherine, Jan 23, 2004
  • [no subject]   from ZSUZSANNA, Mar 25, 2005

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