Review by Sean Boelman
Based on the novel of the same name by Norman Lebrecht, The Song of Names is a new melodrama starring Tim Roth and Clive Owen. However, despite obvious life in the source material, screenwriter Jeffery Caine and director François Girard play it too safe, preventing the film from having much of an emotional impact.
The movie tells the story of a man who travels throughout Europe in search of his friend who disappeared years prior. Although this premise has a ton of potential, it feels very obvious that a lot of material from the book had to have been cut in the adaptation of the screen. While there are still some good things happening in the film, one can’t help but feel like the story is much more shallow than the filmmakers seem to think it is.
One of the most confusing things about this movie is the subplot involving the Holocaust. One of the main characters in the film is a Jewish refugee, which is what kicks off the events of the movie. However, this is the main area in which the film seems to suffer from having made cuts to the material. A majority of the impact of this storyline is lost because it seems like an afterthought to the far less compelling melodrama.
That said, the movie never feels boring. Even though Caine and Girard’s approach to the story all too often feels like the wrong one, it is still somewhat entertaining and poses some interesting questions about loyalty and brotherhood. Ultimately, had the film found its identity much sooner in the first act, and added some clarity to the Holocaust elements, this could have been a much more effective drama.
But as it stands now, the movie is in desperate need of additional character development. Perhaps the single most frustrating thing about this film is that the motivations of the protagonist are all over the place. Over the course of the movie, multiple justifications are given for the events of the film, from honoring the image of his father to simply reuniting with someone who was important in his life. This is indicative of some of the greater issues in the movie.
Tim Roth and Clive Owen are both very talented actors, but they seem woefully miscast in these roles. Neither seems particularly well-fit for such a quiet and contemplative film, their strengths being in more intense thrillers. Although they are believable as the characters, they don’t bring enough emotion to their roles to completely sell the arcs.
The one true strength of the movie is its execution, as Girard obviously has a very good eye and ear to make a gorgeous film. The cinematography is excellent, some of the compositions being extremely picturesque, though it is worthy of note that this glossiness does not always suit the movie. Additionally, the use of music is phenomenal, but that is expected given the role that music plays in the story.
While The Song of Names certainly isn’t a bad film, it is entirely unspectacular. It seems like the biggest flaw in this movie is that screenwriter Caine simply couldn’t juggle all of the moving parts in the source material, and as a result, the adaptation feels like a bit of a mess.
The Song of Names is now playing in theaters.