It’s surprising that the same director who delivered an amazing, uplifting and inspirational opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics, would also be responsible for a film as dark and bleak as Shallow Grave. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise though because nobody seems to be able to do dark and depressing like British filmmakers.
It must be the dreary, rain-soaked environment that fits any morbid scenario perfectly. Whether it’s a hitman in London, a film centered round domestic violence or, in the case of Shallow Grave, a dead body and a whole heap of cash and mistrust between friends, Britain, or more specifically London, is the perfect location.
We also seem to have the actors to pull of the darker, more edgy themes. In the case of Shallow Grave, Christopher Eccleston stands out as the creepiest and most paranoid of the three friends who let money and mistrust destroy their relationships and lives. He does a great job of going from mild-mannered, “normal” David Stephens to someone much more sinister, dark and controlling. It’s a creepy turn that edges on something that you would see in a British version of The Shining.
In fact, it’s another example of a British actor seemingly waiting for the big break. Christopher Eccleston has been a superb British TV talent for years and is recognised as such in this country. Although he’s played the stereotypical European villain in films like GI:JOE, he’s never really had the big break he deserves and his talent warrants. Hopefully his role in the Thor sequel may go someway to rectifying that.
The person on the other edge of that coin is Ewan McGregor. He seems to play against type, creating a character who is obnoxious, annoying and the “victim” to Eccleston’s “psycho.” It’s an early example of how talented McGregor is, something I don’t think he really gets the chance to show anymore, swapping some heavyweight acting in the likes of Trainspotting, for films like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
The third character, who rounds off the trio nicely, is Kerry Fox as the female lead in the movie. This is the first notable film I’ve seen her in and her acting skills are tested, and shine, as much as Eccleston’s and McGregor’s does. The casting of the three main characters holds the film together and the early scenes, while the three of them are still friends, are very funny and entertaining because they seem to gel perfectly with great chemistry.
The story of the film is good but probably not as good as it wants to be. There are some fantastic moments as we slowly watch the three friends begin to mistrust and suspect the others of stealing the money or doing worst to their housemates. It suffers from not really knowing where it wants to go with the story once its developed the full on paranoia of one of the key characters and even leads to some weird choices from the other housemates too. It ends on what it hopes will be a clever twist but this never really hits you with the impact of much better films and their “final reveals.”
Overall, a film that is more interesting for the showcase of talent on offer than the actual story its trying to tell. It’s an early example of how good Eccleston and McGregor are and even more so with Boyle. It’s also another example of a dark, sinister film set in the perfect location of dreary, rainy Britain.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)