The long shadows of the past!
US / 72 minutes / color / Roger, Nightfly, Wonder, RIVR Dir: James Oakley Pr: Michael Webber, Peter McIntosh, Amanda Foley, James Oakley Scr: Alex Michaelides Cine: Kenneth Brown Cast: Lena Olin, Rosamund Pike, Dean Winters, Molly Price, Barbara Garrick, Bern Cohen, Matthew Faber, Stephen Gevedon, Jennifer Lawrence, Alan Coates, Paul Navarra, Michael Pemberton, Kit Flanagan, Annika Peterson, Charlie Wilson, Eric Zuckerman.
The very first thing I thought on glancing at this movie was, Golly! What a cast! How come I’ve never heard of this . . .?
What I didn’t then know was that, although released in 2013—by which time Rosamund Pike was much in the ascendant, with Gone Girl (2014) due to make her a megastar in the following year, and Jennifer Lawrence was already a megastar, thanks notably to The Hunger Games (2012)—Devil You Know had in fact been more or less completed as long ago as 2005, since when it had been sitting on the shelf.
Lena Olin as Kathryn Vale.
Such a history might suggest an opportunistically released elderly stinker. Of course, there could be lots of other reasons why the movie had been left to gather dust, but that’s usually one’s first guess. Despite the fact that I’ve adored Pike in everything of hers I’ve ever seen, and have never been able to understand why it took her so long before she received the kind of international recognition she so obviously deserved, was I setting myself up for a disappointment?
The short answer is: No. Although this is by no means a groundbreaking movie, it offers us three excellent—even breathtaking—performances from the three female leads in a tale that’s full of the sensibilities of noir. The very ending appears slightly rushed—there’s one important strand that remains un-tied off—but the rest kept me fascinated and engrossed.
Rosamund Pike as Zoe Hughes.
Ten years ago Max Pierce (Gevedon), the husband of prominent movie star Kathryn Vale (Olin), was shot dead in their home. The killer was never apprehended, but enough people assumed it must have been Kathryn who dunnit that she was forced to retire from public life—including from her screen career. Now, though, she’s published a tell-all (or, at least, a tell-most-of-it) bestselling autobiography and offers of screen roles are beginning to come her way again. It looks like the world is ready for a Kathryn Vale comeback.
Stephen Gevedon as Max Pierce.
All this is being watched rather sourly by Kathryn’s daughter Zoe Hughes (Pike). Zoe, who was also in the house on that fateful night, is by now aspiring to a screen career of her own. The last thing she wants is to be eclipsed by the resurgence of her mother: she knows she could make it big if only Mom would stay clear. What Zoe completely fails to recognize—although it becomes clear to us from the get-go—is that she has little screen presence and is at best a mediocre, rather wooden actor. The reason she’s in danger of eclipse is not that Mom is already a household name but that Mom has charisma and genuine talent: Mom has star quality.
Dean Winters as Jake Kelly.
Mom also has a new and much younger boyfriend, screenwriter Jake Kelly (Winters): it’s because of the love she shares with him, Kathryn explains gushingly to TV interviewer Joan Stone (Garrick), that she feels strong enough to be contemplating that comeback. However, in the same way that it’s obvious to everyone except Zoe that Zoe’s a second-rate actress, it’s obvious to everyone except Kathryn that Jake is not at all averse, whenever the opportunity presents itself (which it quite often does), to playing the field with younger women.
So there’s another reason for Zoe to feel she’s in rivalry with her mother . . .
Molly Price as Edie Fontaine.
Trying to hold everything together is Kathryn’s PA and companion, Edie Fontaine (Price), who’s quite probably also in love with her boss. No one seems actually to like Edie, and Kathryn treats her like trash—although charmingly so, as is her manner—but at the same time mother and daughter seem to rely inordinately on her, to assume she’ll be there whenever they need her.
There are, then, tensions galore among these four principals. Is the stage being set for a repetition of history?
Lena Olin as Kathryn Vale, increasingly cornered.
As I indicated above, all three of the female leads give us quite splendid performances in their very different roles; if I had to carp at all, I might say that I wasn’t entirely convinced by Pike’s renditions of Zoe’s bad acting—the first example of it that we see, in particular, reads less like bad acting than like a good actor trying to imitate a bad one without corpsing. Price has perhaps the most difficult challenge of the three, having to play the ordinary, outwardly reserved human being opposite two screen actresses.
Rosamund Pike as Zoe Hughes, in whose mouth butter seemingly would not melt.
I haven’t said much about Winters. Although he’s fine as the Hugh Grant-style engaging cad, his role seems to consist of, so to speak, the echoes of the three women. While it’d be wrong to give the impression that Jake is just a sort of chameleonic cipher, a figment who has no real presence in their world, he does seem to be someone who has spent his life—and if left to his own devices forever will spend it—just passing through.
Jennifer Lawrence as the young Zoe.
Outside these four, no one else in the cast has anything beyond a bit part with the arguable exception of Jennifer Lawrence, whose (unspeaking) role has the slightly grander status of “very small.” She plays the younger version of Zoe, a teenager who flaunts her sexuality, evidently reveling in the power it gives her. Her older self, by contrast, generally maintains an exterior primness and is unwilling to give of herself in her relationships with others . . . while reading porn like Georges Bataille’s Blue of Noon (1935/1957) in private.
Lena Olin as Kathryn Vale.
Devil You Know is, then, a fairly minor but by no means embarrassing offering, with much to like (including, assuming you’re that way inclined, lots exposed female legs, to which cinematographer Brown seems to gravitate with unusual alacrity). I remain surprised that the movie is so little known.