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Friday, July 27, 2007
Top Gere but runs out of gas
By KAORI SHOJI
Richard Gere stars as a creased, rumpled, work-obsessed monitor of sexual offenders in "The Flock" (released in Japan as "Kieta Tenshi)," a vehicle in which he seems to derive absolute pleasure from shattering his own, Desirable Male No. 1 stereotype.
Gere has become a formidable actor, one who can play disheveled unattractiveness without the slightest hint of irony or self-deprecation, who dons the role as naturally and casually as slipping into a pair of worn-out corduroys. Who would have thought that Richard Gere of all people, could make himself reek with Mid-Life Crisis? But reek he does, with what seems like sheer glee. Ungroomed, unsexy and obnoxious to the marrow, he does things like turn up unexpectedly at a young woman's home, accept her hospitable offer of a drink and then pass out on the sofa, snoring. He struts, he huffs, he has a serious anger problem. No one likes him and he likes no one. He's scared stiff of what he'll do after retirement because then he will be left with nothing. Having spent decades in the company of convicted sex criminals, it seems much of their mind-set and behavior has rubbed off; he can't look at a female without wondering whether or not she's been molested but his probing gaze has just as much creep factor as the offenders he helped to put behind bars.
Directed by Andrew Lau (the Hong Kong filmmaker of "Infernal Affairs" fame who has since moved out to Hollywood), "The Flock" is a weird, murkily-lit movie with "The Silence of the Lambs" undertones. Gere plays Errol Babbage, a sort of good-guy Dr. Lecter who wants to groom his understudy Allison (Claire Danes) into becoming a first-rate, sex-offender monitor after he's "put out to pasture." Why the smart, attractive Allison ever decided to make this particular career move is a mystery; the job calls for monitoring 1,000 ex-offenders over the course of one month and this involves house-calls followed by asking such clueless questions as: "Have you had any sexual thoughts lately?" Some live in remote trailer parks, others like rich kid Edmund Grooms (Russell Sams) has lured an underage cokehead girlfriend (played by the extremely atmospheric rock-chick Avril Lavigne) into his posh apartment. A monitor can't make arrests; the most they can do is blow the whistle or try and prevent ex-offenders from repeating their crimes. Errol's co-workers stay safely in the office and stare at computer screens; Errol pounds the pavement, or drives all day, harassing and embarrassing his "flock" into toeing the line. His logic: "I know some people are capable of change. But MY people aren't." Allison is exasperated and pissed off by his boisterousness; the funniest moment in the movie comes when it's revealed that his charges hold monthly meetings (in the manner of reformed alcoholics) to bond and then complain about Errol's methods. ("The offenders are offended!" splutters Errol's boss.) Much of the rest of the film is humorless and sadly cliched. Errol takes Allison to a sort of S & M house where many of his flock go to indulge their fantasies. Allison finds magazines featuring amputated female limbs stewn on the floor and one of Errol's most vicious charges has let his pet wolf in. A woman chained to a stone wall in a dungeonlike chamber writhes in joy and calls out for "the whip, baby!" Five minutes of this sequence and the feeling isn't one of terror or disgust, but a kind of boredom. You realize that as a spectacle, obsessional sex has very little to offer in the way of anything new.
What could have been interesting is Allison's background and why she chose this line of work, or how she ever came to occupy her spacious and tastefully decorated house (typical of Andrew Lau, everyone in the movie has stylish abodes and a cool wardrobe with the exception of Errol). Unfortunately she never says or does very much, and subsequently is a disappointing Clarice Starling to Errol's skewed version of Dr. Lecter. For all that they are mired in sexual issues, the pair don't get a whole lot of chemistry going either. Once, Errol attempts to interrogate her about her private life which she effectively evades — she's not hiding something so much as the sad fact that she's got nothing to hide. No wonder Errol stops being curious, and focuses his attention on Viola (Kadee Strickland), the ex-wife of a convicted sex offender/murderer who may or may not have been his accomplice in abducting young girls and cutting off their limbs. Viola now gets fan mail from all over the country and secretly rules over Errol's flock with err, a whip hand. Yawn! "The Flock" moves fast, looks good and has all that attests to Lau's trademark stylishness. But the sadism is weary and unconvincing and palls very quickly. "I got the feeling you really understand the human condition" Errol tells Allison. If only the same could be said for the movie.