Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander
Synopsis: A wounded criminal and his dying partner take refuge at a beachfront castle.
Chinatown aside, I’ve never been a big fan of Roman Polanski, so I should have known better than to hope to find any enjoyment from his bleak and unpleasant Cul-de-sac; not funny enough to be considered a comedy (black or otherwise – it’s mostly too obscure to win laughs from the average moviegoer, and its primary objective seems to be to amuse the intelligentsia, anyway), and too preoccupied with its search for a stylistic identity to succeed as a psychological thriller, Cul-de-sac falls squarely between both stools with a dull, lifeless thud.
The thin plot concerns the invasion of a mismatched couple’s Northumbrian castle by a pair of cartoonish criminals on the run after a botched job, and the tensions and conflicts arising from the situation. Jack McGowran (The Exorcist) as the fatally wounded of the two gangsters, enlivens proceedings for the first twenty minutes or so, but his role is too small, and things grow increasingly monotonous as things stumble along. Lionel Stander (Once Upon a Time in the West, Milano calibro 9), as the surviving gangster, is reminiscent of Wallace Beery in both appearance and voice, and does well with his part.
The problem with movies like Cul-de-sac is that all the characters are so damn dislikeable; totally self-absorbed, and seemingly intent on making life as unpleasant as possible for those around them, they leave the average viewer with nobody to identify with on any level, thereby making it impossible to become emotionally involved in their predicament. As a result, the movie crawls along at a snail’s pace, and you’re don’t care who dies or how – you just want the whole sorry episode to be over.
(Reviewed 6th May 2002)