It's best to look at the Australian movie "The Monkey's Mask" as a character study rather than a private-eye mystery, for it is virtually devoid of suspense or surprise. It is engaging all the same, for it presents a most likable heroine, Jill (Susie Porter), an ex-cop in her 20s who has recently gone into business for herself. Jill lives with her father outside Sydney in a secluded home/office in a woodsy area, not perhaps the safest location for someone in her line of work.
When Jill is hired by a distraught couple in search of their missing daughter, a would-be poet, she is plunged into the world of poetry readings, discovering more poseurs than artists. A lesbian who favors leather jackets and a short cut for her curly red hair, Jill is instantly attracted to the missing college student's poetry professor, Diana (Kelly McGillis). Jill has seen a lot that's ugly in her professional experience, so Diana represents to her a world of sophistication, both intellectual and sensual.
The fortyish professor may complain about growing older, but she's a woman of justifiably breathtaking self-confidence, sleek and insinuating, a pleasure seeker in an open marriage to Nick (Marton Csokas), a ruthless attorney 10 years her junior. In no time Jill is at once juggling a job and a scorching affair. Diana is all about sex and not at all about emotion, while Jill starts losing her heart to her.
"The Monkey's Mask" is above all a portrait of Jill as a young woman in over her head romantically, but smart and resilient enough to gather the courage to assert herself. Both in her own life and in her investigation she must confront the unsavory ways in which impressionable young people can be exploited by their elders.
The missing student, an aspiring poet of more sincerity than talent, is transfixed by a highly popular middle-aged poet (Jean-Pierre Mignon) notorious for seducing his legions of young female admirers.
In directing "The Monkey's Mask" from Annie Kennedy's adaptation of Dorothy Porter's novel-in-poetry, Samantha Lang displays considerable style and assurance, with Porter and McGillis giving beautifully nuanced portrayals. They have a series of lovemaking scenes that are as tasteful as they are steamy. Jill's so fresh and appealing that a return in a sequel, even a series, would be most welcome, but if that should happen she ought to have a more substantial case to solve.
Unrated. Times guidelines: Considerable nudity and fairly explicit sex, some violence and language, adult themes and situations.
'The Monkey's Mask'
Susie Porter: Jill
Kelly McGillis Diana
Marton Csokas: Nick
Jean-Pierre Mignon: Tony
A Strand Releasing and Australian Film Finance Corp. presentation of a an Arena film production. Director Samantha Lang. Producers Robert Connolly, John Maynard. Screenplay by Annie Kennedy; based on the novel-in-poetry by Dorothy Porter. Cinematographer Garry Philips. Editor Dany Cooper. Music supervisor Andrew Kotalko. Costumes Emily Seresin. Production designer Michael Philips. Art director Tony Campbell. Set decorator Andrew Short. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
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