Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes shine in this intriguing but overloaded noire-thriller romance.
Depending on your view of director Thomas Vinterberg’s work (of the original Dogme 95 movement, Festen, The Hunt), It’s all About Love will be a profound and moving exploration of the human condition set against global catastrophe, or the biggest load of pretentious, art-house twaddle in years.
And it’s not all about love, either.
Polish professor John (Phoenix – Walk the Line, The Village) flies into New York to sign divorce papers with his soon-to-be ex-wife Elena (Claire Danes – Homeland), a troubled skating superstar in mid world tour. He promptly walks into a conspiracy in which the entire entourage including Elena’s brother Michael (Douglas Henshall), manager (Alun Armstrong), fixer (Mark Strong) and the mysterious Mr Morrison (Geoffrey Hutchings) are a part.
There may be several Elena look-alikes on the loose, or she may have just made them up through substance abuse. A bit like the Polish accents sported by Danes, Phoenix and Henshall.
Now Vinterberg could have settled for giving us a Scandinavian, low-key relationship drama about two troubled people played by attractive actors. He could have put those people into a decent conspiracy thriller, which lurks in Pinter-eqsue pauses and gently threatening conversations.
Instead, Vinterberg wraps the whole thing in this slightly loopy pre-global apocalypse in which we have an on-coming ice age, spontaneous fresh-water freezes, thousands of people suddenly dropping dead of heart failure – it’s lack of love, apparently; whilst in Africa, people are achieving spontaneous unpowered flight.
At the end of each episode of Danes and Phoenix discovering a plot thread and attempting one of several escapes, something faintly ludicrous happens punctuated by another external reference to the end of the world through mocked-up newsreel.
Among the mysteries are how Vinterberg’s obvious talent for mood, atmosphere and characterful dialogue is repeatedly undermined by the spurious and often laughable tat in his sci-fi backdrop. There isn’t nearly enough panic (or people) in his near-future (clearly present-day) New York, with all this stuff going on.
Much of the movie takes place in faded and unsettling hotels not far from Stephen King’s The Shining. Parts of it feel lifted from Andrew Nichols’s Gattaca and a host of seventies conspiracy thrillers. Sure, the supporting cast is excellent around Phoenix and Danes, but for the most part they are cyphers for Vinterberg’s themes.
The biggest mystery of all is why Vinterberg has aviophobe Sean Penn in perpetual (and irritatingly smug) soliloquy, trapped on various aeroplanes, communing with his younger brother Phoenix in equally dodgy Polish accent, intoning profound homilies about love and family. Penn has absolutely no connection to the plot whatsoever. And don’t give me that stock answer about the Brechtian alienation effect, Beckett-inspired reflection on existence and E.M. Forster’s famous “only connect”; Vinterberg is trying to be profound but veers toward risible.
By the time you get to the Hitchcock-lite escape across snowy Northern wastes, the remaining plot twists have run out of track and the Bergman-esque conclusion seems to be hang onto what you’ve got, it will over be over soon anyway. I was waiting for Death to come and lead everyone away by the hand, but it seems even Death got snowed out of all airports by the CGI blizzards borrowed from a Roland Emmerich movie.
It was interesting, if slightly loopy, just what you’d expect from a Danish art-house director getting hold of Hollywood stars. It seems in genre mash-up land, there’s always room for one more sci-fi, enviro-disaster, conspiracy-thriller, romance. RC
It’s All About Love (2003)
Director; Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov
Genre: Too many to list.
Running time: 1hr 58mins
Certification: R, 18
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Sean Penn, Douglas Henshall, Alun Armstrong, Geoffrey Hutchings.
Related: In Time