I can pinpoint the exact instant that I started hating 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed,' and it happens in the opening moments.
To be fair, the first few minutes of this micro-budgeted film noir, in which a pair of hoods (played by Martin Compston and the great Eddie Marsan) wordlessly go about their nefarious deeds: they buy soundproofing equipment, outfit a crummy little apartment, buy gags, handcuffs, and the like. The sequence is fueled by a propulsive musical beat (the composer Mark Canham used to do music for videogames) and you can't help but get caught up; you're an accomplice now after all. By the time you realize what they're up to, it's already too late: they're about to nab the titular Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton) and everything is going to go very wrong, very quickly.
Now here's where we get hung up, and where I checked out of the film altogether: as part of the abduction, they strip Alice down. This is supposed to be an act of degradation of course, but in the hands of first time filmmaker J Blakeson (he wrote and directed), it comes off as clumsy and offensive.
You see, when they remove her clothes they also engage in a kind of 'Austin Powers'-esque pantomime. As the geography of the room is established, there's always someone standing in front of Alice's lower half. When they grab a newspaper to show Alice's captors what day it is where do you think they toss it? Yep – over her nether bits. This can be attributed to some misplaced sense of good taste or inherent male squeamishness, but it's a punch that, once pulled, cannot be undone. The movie is now antiseptic and safe and, what's more, shortchanges the character of Alice to a huge degree.
Instead of being a fully formed person, she's now a pin-up model who has found herself engaged in an elaborate bit of torture porn role playing. Her very humanity is gone, because the filmmaker can't deal with showing her entire naked body.
From then on out, the movie tries its hardest to mix things up. There are allegiances that shift, revelations that come out, and the entire thing is infused with an admirable go-for-broke-ness. The interpersonal relationships are interesting, for sure, and at times it comes off as something slightly more than the pulpy trash it quite obviously is. If it wasn't bogged down by the icky subtext (and the whole thing didn't fall hopelessly flat as it raced towards its climax), then it would be a lot easier to appreciate. But 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed' can never make it over that first hurdle: had Alice Creed been given her proper due (and, really Gemma Arterton is more than game), we could have rooted for her much more easily as the movie progressed and things worsen.
Blakeson seems to be adept at cutting and shooting movies, and his technical expertise (especially while dealing with a budget of under $1 million) is pretty impressive. He also seems to clearly be modeling himself on the early works of Christopher Nolan (and, indeed, Blakeson's next gig is a studio project written by Nolan's brother, Jonathan). Let's just hope, if this is his 'Following,' that he has a 'Memento' in him too.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Disappearance of Alice Creed' comes to high-definition on a 25GB Blu-ray disc that is Region A locked.
The 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer (aspect ratio: 2.40:1) does look pretty good. I was worried about the low light levels for much of the film, since that can throw off even the sparkliest of transfers, but thankfully, the disc handles itself well.
The film was shot digitally, and it looks like this transfer was direct-from-the-digital source, without any fussy film intermediates. As such, there aren't any technical imperfections to speak of (the transfer is mercifully noise-free) and I didn't notice any other problems that can plague film-based transfers.
While the general color scheme is quite subdued (there are a lot of pale greens and grays), there is still a feeling of definition and depth throughout the movie, with great details (you can count the peaks of the soundproof stuff they stick up all over the walls). Skin tones look good, black levels are solid (like the "bandit hats" the two criminals wear) and colors (when there are any) pop.
Overall, it's a extremely solid transfer.
The audio on the disc, a Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 lossless job, isn't quite as striking as the video component but it does suit the workmanlike nature of the film well enough.
The biggest compliment that can be awarded this mix is, first and foremost, is that the music sounds really, really great. There isn't a whole lot of surround sound stuff, and even when there is, it doesn't sound all that tremendous, and the movie is a talky little thriller, so the majority of action is front and center, but the music sounds great. It's sweeping and dimensional and totally lush.
I wasn't expecting much from the sound mix (remember, the film's budget was under $1 million and clearly everyone involved considers this a "mood piece" more than an outright "proper thriller") but it would have been nice if the audio had exceeded my expectations in the same way the audio portion did.
There is only one audio option on the disc (save for the commentary) but there are subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
All of the extras presented on this disc are also on the standard definition DVD. There are no Blu-ray exclusives.
I really hated 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed,' and not just because I disconnected so early. It's a movie that tries really hard to be the "next great British crime movie" but fails completely. It has a certain degree of technical polish, but that can't overcome its narrative shortcomings (instead, rent something like Shane Meadows' 'Dead Man's Shoes' instead and really get blown away). If you like the movie, you could certainly do worse than the Blu-ray, if only for the very strong video quality (audio and supplements are decidedly more lackluster). Everyone else should skip this (and let me know what you think of 'Dead Man's Shoes!')