Posted in: Disc Reviews by Paul O'Callaghan on September 17th, 2012
The Letter is a brand new film starring Winona Ryder and James Franco, and I think Winona is a beautiful as she has ever been. She was a big A-list star when she was younger, but then she had some legal problems that seemed to derail her. She resumed worked though in high profile projects like The Black Swan, Mr. Deeds, and The Dilemma playing bad girls. James Franco is also a big name and has a high profile, even co-hosting the Oscars (though that did not work out very well). Franco has a tendency to do lots of oddball projects. His projects are ambitious and far-reaching. He has big project coming up from his Spider Man director that serves as a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. He seems willing to take chances.
The Letter is an odd project. Winona (Martine Jamison) is directing a play, and the film is dreamily narrated by her as free-form thoughts. An early glimpse of a play of hers seems arty and serious. It seems she writes her plays as well. As we see her and hear her thoughts we know that she seems somewhat disconnected, and we are not sure she is just searching her way through the creative process.
James Franco (Tyrone) seems like a hostile presence, but in a coy, vague way. He seems supportive of Winona, though. It seems everyone is off kilter and ill at ease. It seems that Winona might be losing her mind slowly, but we are not sure. The performances are subdued and cryptic. The other actors in the play seem confused by what’s going on. This is a workshop production, and the actors are seeming to lose footing as to what is going on. Artists are known to be temperamental and demanding, so it is easy to attribute Winona’s moods to her searching artistic journey.
Then a hit and run accident occurs that severely injures a journalist that had started interviewing Winona. The detective investigating is trying to identify a voice on a tape the journalist was using. It might be James Franco. His actions actually become even more suspect and inscrutable. This is the kind of project that is made to deliberately try to provoke the audience. One thing that is noticeable is that there is no music (or it is very muted). This lends the project a very non-movie, pseudo-documentary style. It is obvious that Winona is confused and distressed. The question is is she crazy? The style of the piece is unusual and challenging. It seems that the writer/director Jay Anania had a real desire to do something different and thought-provoking. It is, but that is not always a good thing. The film continues to get harder and harder to decipher. Some explanations seem to occur but considering how unreliable the narrator is, can we trust these explanations?
In the end, this is a project for discriminating tastes. It is arty and difficult and may require more than one viewing to unravel. If you are the kind of person who is up for that, then try this out. If you are looking for excitement and fun, steer clear.