Academy Award® Winner Tilda Swinton and Oscar® Nominee Ralph Fiennes are on fire in the year’s most provocative story of emotional betrayal and sexual desire. Swinton plays a famous rock star vacationing with her lover (Matthias Schoenaerts) on a remote Italian island. While the couple basks in the foreshadowing heat of the Mediterranean sun, their lives are soon disrupted by the unexpected visit of an old flame (Fiennes) and his seductive daughter (Dakota Johnson), creating a whirlwind of jealousy, passion and – ultimately – danger for everyone involved.
There are some actors and actresses that are so captivating that they command my attention in anything they are in. You can put Tilda Swinton at the top of that list. Her intensity draws my attention every time she is on screen, and this elevates everything she is in. Then, if you put her opposite the always delightful Ralph Fiennes in a psychological drama in the vein of Mike Nichols’ ‘Closer,’ you have my attention.
Almost twenty minutes into the movie, I realized I needed to reset my expectations. This is a more methodical and deliberate drama that doesn't have the tension of ‘Closer.’ But that doesn't mean that this film is without merit. Swinton plays Marianne Lane, a lead singer rocker chick who has seen better days. Her voice is gone and she can barely speak, and is now taking daily medication to try to get it back. She has a much younger boyfriend, Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is helping her nurse herself back to health wile enjoying a vacation in the beautiful Italian island of Pantelleria. Everything is going so well, and to be honest it seems like Marianne is looking forward to leaving her career behind in exchange for a more stable lifestyle….That is until they are met with an unexpected visit from Marianne’s old producer, and old flame, Hank Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter Penelope Lannier (Dakota Johnson). Hank may seem like he is there to visit old friends on the surface, but he has entirely different motives. Unlike Marianne, Hank has no intention of slowing down his lifestyle because he is older, in fact he has intentions to rekindle old flames and live out his carefree rockstar lifestyle. This obviously causes tensions to arise and relationships to be scarred.
Unfortunately, Swinton isn't at her best here. Swinton does the most she can with what she’s given and does a whole lot using just body language, but this film doesn't do her any favors. There are multiple flashbacks where she has her voice that would give her the opportunity to shine, but those scenes are far too short and far too sparse. Hell, you only get one scene where you actually hear her singing. She is done a great disservice by the material, and even though I didn't hate her in this, I was a bit underwhelmed. I understand this movie wants to make her lack of speech a metaphor for her life at this moment. Marianne has lost interest in music, and therefore fate has intervened and taken her voice away, giving her a reason to not sing anymore. But this has to be the least bold role that I have seen her in to date. The characters of Paul and Penelope are also at a disservice here as they don’t have anything to really drive the story until the last half hour of the film.
Luckily, Swinton is joined by the immensely charismatic Ralph Fiennes, who is electric here. Fiennes usually has a very naturalistic performance that is somewhat low key (with the exception of his portrayal of Voldemort, of course), but I have never seen him with such energy as in this film. His character is a carefree music producer who is a very passionate person; he is passionate about his music, women, and life in general. The way Fiennes plays this character with such jovial, and almost nervous energy is truly captivating, and he becomes what draws me in to this movie from his first scene to his last.
As I mentioned previously, despite being labeled as a psychological drama and marketed as a film that would explore the tension that can occur in adult relationships, that is not this film at all. There is tension between the characters in this movie, but that all takes place in the last half hour, and it is a long build up to get to that that point. But once I got over my preconceived notions, I realized that I actually enjoyed the more deliberate pace. You really get to know these characters, so that when the big twist comes toward the end of this film, it makes more sense with the personalities of the characters involved. You get the sense that Marianne is kind of over her singing career at the beginning of this film. Like if she never got her voice back and quit, it wouldn't be a big deal to her. But Harry, on the other hand, loves the art of music so blindly and passionately that he considers this a travesty, and just being around Harry is enough for Marianne to miss that lifestyle and her relationship with the charismatic Harry. This all adds up to a pretty damn good drama that I actually warmed up to. This is not an intense relationship drama like some films have been in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much this movie, wile not leaving an overwhelming impression on me, kept me caring about these characters throught its two hour runtime.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘A Bigger Splash’ comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Fox Studios, with a pretty standard packaging effort. We start off with the usual slipcover that reveals an identical hard cover case, with a BD-50 to the right of the case once opened, and an Ultraviolet Digital HD code on the right. One you press play, you will be presented with the same skippable trailers, and that brings you to a still image menu that will allow you to navigate from there.
‘A Bigger Splash’ looks to wow you with its beautiful locales with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that benefits a lot from being filmed in such a gorgeous location. While being framed at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this film was shot on 35mm and it shows, with a lush color palette. Never does the palette pop out at you and wow you with its bold colors, but instead it has a more natural color palette. As I mentioned before, ‘A Bigger Splash’ takes place on an island in Italy, and while not having big bold colors, the cinematography is very natural looking, and, take it from someone who has had the pleasure of experiencing the beautiful sights of Italy, this film feels very authentic. Anyone who any affection for Italy and its culture will feel very at home looking at these beautiful landscapes.
Beyond the setting in this transfer, it does have a small amount of issues related to night scenes where you lose some detail, but nothing major. Detail work and clarity are excellent, just as you would expect from a major new release. Obviously this isn't going to be a flashy transfer but what it does well is give a great representation of place and setting, while still giving us an authentic look of Italy that never rang false to me.
Fox wants to rock your house with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix that is no slouch. I have previously commented on audio mixes that seem front heavy and kind of lazy because they follow the preconceived notion that just because this is a drama they don't have to put any effort towards the mix. The mix for this movie shows them all up. There are large portions of this film that do feel very front heavy, with only a bird chirping here and there to give this track some life, and there is nothing wrong with that. After all, some mixes are overstuffed with sounds that were put in hap hazardously, and just feel unnatural and distracting.
Then there are the rock music scenes where this mix comes to life in a big way. Surrounds and the LFE track kick in and let you know this track actually has some legs. During the all too short flashback scenes where Swinton’s band plays live, you get the echo from her lead vocals through the surrounds, and when the bass of the electric guitar combines with the heavy hitting drums, and blast their way through your living room, you get impressive bass levels. But that isn't all, there are also great 60s and 70s songs that Hank plays throughout the movie and they all mix beautifully here. If anyone wants to hear ‘Jump into the Fire’ by Nilsson, and ‘Good Vibrations’ by The Beach Boys in beautiful 5.1 surround sound, then this is the track for you. Voice and overall levels are more than generous here. This track shows us that an effective 5.1 audio track can be made for just about any movie and still seem natural and not forced, and for that, I am very grateful to this audio track.
Promotional Material (8:24 HD) – A series of very short clips that mainly focus on individual characters and locations.
Theatrical Trailer (1:57 HD)
There are people that say that every film should aspire to be impactful on its viewer in some way and never settle for less. I feel like people who believe that notion are missing out on many smaller films that, while not perfect, still provide good, if not great, entertainment. And that is exactly what ‘A Bigger Splash’ is. Yes, this film has its problems: a very deliberate and slow pace, some underutilized characters, and I'm not sure if I 100% agree with the final scene of the movie. But there is good here as well, such as underutilized characters that are still intriguing, the beautiful setting, a twist that I saw coming but was still effective, and an absolutely electric performance by Ralph Fiennes. This performance makes me think even higher of him now that I know he doesn't always have to play a character that is a stick in the mud. This isn't a movie that will stay with most people for days, but maybe, because of a very strong performance by Ralph Fiennes, it just might make your day.