Something I love about working in the theatre is the opportunity to work with small casts. There is an intimacy about working with 3-6 people that cannot be duplicated with larger casts; they get to know each other on a deeper level, and learn to feed off each other in a different way than a cast of 10+ might. A small cast is rarer in film than on stage, but movies like The Disappearance of Alice Creed – with a cast of three actors – prove that small casts are a special experience, for both the audience and the actors.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed tells the story of two men: Vik (Eddie Marsan – Sherlock Holmes, V for Vendetta), a seasoned veteran to the crime world, and his young assistant, Danny (Martin Compston – Sweet Sixteen). The two men kidnap the daughter of a millionaire – Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Clash of the Titans) – in order to ransom money out of her father. The two men have meticulously planned every detail of the kidnapping, including soundproofing the room in the abandoned building they will keep her. Ms. Creed refuses to be the perfect victim, forcing the men to change their plans.
Alice Creed is able to grab the viewer before the first words are ever spoken. The beginning of the film shows a different side of a kidnapping that audiences don’t get to see very often: the kidnappers getting ready, building the soundproof room, bolting the bed to the floor, and so on. There is no dialogue for the first five minutes of the movie as this preparation is happening, and this is a wonderful choice by writer and director J Blakeson (writer of The Descent: Part 2). Though no words are spoken, the roles of the men – one being the master and the other playing a subservient role – are made clear through body language and the like.
This scene also helps to make these characters feel like living human beings. I have a soft spot for movies, and directors, that are able to make the audience sympathize with despicable characters (anyone who has seen the brilliant Dangerous Liaisons will understand this exactly), and Alice Creed does just that. Vik and Danny kidnap a young woman, chain her up, and humiliate her for monetary gains, yet the actors and Blakeson create complicated characters with real problems and desires, which forces the audience to care about them. This is a difficult thing to master, but makes for a special movie when it is achieved.
Watching these three actors in such vulnerable situations is exciting. All three actors are talented, and the level of trust between the three is apparent. Eddie Marsan is generally labeled as a character actor, but he shows that he is much more than that with his strong performance here. His character is multi-faceted, and he handles his dialogue with ease. Martin Compston doesn’t have as prolific a resume of his on-screen partners, but his talent is able to shine, in part to the veterans around him. Not only does his accent kick ass, but he is also wonderfully manipulative and unpredictable throughout the film. It is a strong role for this actor, who is now on my radar of actors to look for. The final actor in the film, with arguably the most difficult role, Gemma Armerton (who won a UK Empire Award for Best Newcomer in 2009), handles her part with an incredible level of believability and vulnerability. If Armerton was a lesser actor, this movie could have imploded on itself. Instead, Armerton elevates the movie, and the actors around her. It is refreshing to see talented actors handle a solid script, because, in movies of this caliber, we usually only get one or the other.
The story comes off as simply another crime drama, but within minutes the viewer realizes there is something different here. They might not be able to put their finger on it within the first 20 minutes or so, but as the movie progresses, it will hit them on the head. More correctly, this is an enthralling drama that happens to include a crime. There is love, deception, hate, revenge, lust, and greed oozing through every inch of the film, which keeps the audience guessing as to what will win out. There are a couple moments that leave the audience questioning “why”, though. It’s impossible to talk about these without giving spoilers, but they reside in the “why would they do that” category that is seen so often in horror movies. These questionable moments only come up about twice in the film, though, so most viewers will be able to forgive them, accept them for what they are, and continue enjoying the film. Aside from these small moments, Alice Creed is a fresh story that grabs the audience, and makes him or her watch simply to know where the ride will end.
The core of this film rests on the shoulders of only four individuals: the writer/director, and the three actors. Obviously it takes hundreds of people to get a movie from first draft to release date, but at its core, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a perfect example of what four talented people can pull off. This is a film that had, at most, 12 screens in theatres nationwide at one time, and one that will surely not get as much attention as it deserves. That doesn’t lessen the quality of this movie, though, and The Disappearance of Alice Creed raises the bar for what should be expected out of small, low-budget films.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed offers a widescreen presentation, with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio in full HD (1080p). The movie looks stellar on a high definition television. Director J Blakeson has done a fine job with the colors in the film, and especially the textures of the movie, which is unusual. The walls of the apartment where the men hold Alice, for example, has two different textures that are brought to life thanks to the HD laying of the film. Though most of the film is shot inside an apartment unit, the highest quality scenes are the ones shot outside. The landscapes used are beautiful, and they are supported well in high definition.
The audio side holds up just as well as the video side, with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 being the only audio option. There are no explosions or loud car crashes for the audio to shine, but what is here – dialogue and background music – is executed well. There are also English SDH and Spanish subtitle options.
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director J Blakeson: Blakeson talks by himself for the entire length of the feature film. Normally, with only one commentator, this gets tedious, but Blakeson is able to add insightful, interesting information about the film from the start to finish, making this one of the better audio commentary tracks I have heard in a while. Blakeson’s passion for filmmaking is evident throughout the audio track, and that passion is why I will return to his films in the future.
“Phones” Deleted Scene (1:43): Presented in standard definition. Shows the men preparing the phones they will use throughout the kidnapping. This is very similar to another scene in the movie, and is actually more of an extended scene than a fully deleted scene. Also contains an optional audio commentary with J Blakeson.
“Alice […] Gun” Extended Scene (7:42): Presented in standard definition. This scene, which clipped along in the final cut of the movie, drags even in its short, 8-minute state. The cuts were greatly appreciated. J Blakeson also presents an optional commentary with this extended scene. He mentions that the scene was about 8 1/2 pages in length, and that he’ll never write a scene that long again. Thank goodness. The only thing this adds to the movie is more exposition, which proves that it is better to know less, sometimes, than more.
Outtakes (4:16): Humorous outtakes from when the actors broke character while filming. This is like something you would see at the end of a Home Improvement episode. It’s interesting to see who the actors really are, and just how many times it can take to get a seemingly simple scene right. I found this hilarious, but others might have no use for it.
Storyboard Comparison (5:32): Shows two scenes in a side-by-side comparison between the final footage and the original storyboard.
Theatrical Trailer for The Disappearance of Alice Creed (1:21)
The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a great effort that proves even a director with only two short films under his belt can hit it out of the park with his first feature length film. A movie with only three actors, filmed mostly in one place can fall into a slow pacing trap, but Alice Creed never suffers from this, thanks in part to the editing style. The acting is superb, the cinematography is beautiful, and the story is unique. The Blu-ray Disc itself would be worth it for the HD presentation alone, but the special features are an added bonus. More specifically, the audio commentary on the feature film is great, which is unusual when there is only one commentator. The positives far outweigh the negatives in Alice Creed, and it ends up as a highly recommendable Blu-ray.
Anchor Bay Films, CinemaNX, and Isle of Man Film presents The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Directed by: J Blakeson. Starring: Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston. Written by: J Blakeson. Running time: 100 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray and DVD: November 23, 2010.