2 stars (out of four)
Okay, let's get it over with: Courteney Coxa very seriously de-prettified, de-glamorized, de-"Friends"-ified, almost mousy Courteney Coxacquits herself quite well in "November," Greg Harrison's atmospheric psycho-thriller.
If only it were as easy to say the same of Harrison's own work. "November," shot in digital video on a budget that only Robert Rodriguez could love, is stylish and inventive in its storytelling. Harrison has an eye for detail and color and he can frame a shot. Most importantly, he gets tons of help from cinematographer Nancy Schreiber, who seamlessly weaves together the real and surreal.
Harrison's inspiration, Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-Up," is obvious, but his film is shallow as an homage. In "Blow-Up"and in every movie it drove to explore multiple perspectives on storytellingthere's a reason for going back and revisiting the scene, each new visit adding a piece or a layer to our understanding. Not so in November.
As in so many of these types of films, in "November" Sophie (Cox) is a photographer. But we no longer have the vaguest expectations that photography will capture reality. To the contrary, we expect photography to be as subjective as pain, as capable of lying as a man being tortured. Photography will not tell the truth, except the truth we want to hear. Too bad "November" seems to think this is a revelation of some profundity.
Yet, to his credit and in spite of the script's incoherence, Harrison manages to coax a quite believable, sympathetic performance from Cox as the stunned photography professor whose boyfriend is shot dead in a grocery store during a bungled robbery. Or is that what really happened?
Because when Sophie begins to crumble after her boyfriend's murder, there's nothing surprising, there's nothing ironic or inherently interesting in her questioning the visual evidence; it's absolutely expected.
Still, it's hard to tell what Harrison's doing in "November." He plays with subtitles that broadcast stages of grief before settling on a more or less complete telling, but that completeness has more to do with his visual iconography than the narrative arch.
The fact is, neither Harrison or scriptwriter Benjamin Brand is very honest with the audience. They take us through the events of a single night, Nov. 7, over and over, but how these people behave, what happens to whom, simply doesn't add up from version to version. Events contradict each other, each telling deliberately misrepresenting facts. What thenbesides Harrison's obvious skills with aesthetics, besides Harrison showing off, besides the new cliche about photography's inability to tell the truthis this all about?
Depending on which version of the story is true, either the boyfriend, Hugh (James Le Gros, who is surprisingly good in a thankless role) gets killed alone, or doesn't get killed at all, or they both get shot together. In all but the last scenario, Sophie goes off to see a therapist (a solid Nora Dunn) for help coping.
Not long after the shooting, while lecturing her class, a slide depicting the store at which the robbery (murder?) took place shows up mysteriously in her slide carousel. How'd it get there? Is someone messing with her? Is she losing her mind? Suffice it to say, yes, yes, yessort of. Harrison offers a veritable smorgasbord of possibilities, all deliciously unconnected.
Don't expect any kind of chronology to offer hints; time is scrambled here. One minute Hugh's dead as a doornail, the next frisky as a puppy. Of the supporting players, Anne Archer as Sophie's mother has the most pivoting to do, which she does adroitly, but none of it matters. Whatever we think one minute is utterly meaningless, without connection, the next.
Directed and edited by Greg Harrison; screenplay by Benjamin Brand; photographed by Nancy Schreiber; produced by Danielle Renfrew, Gary Winick, Jake Abraham. A Sony Pictures Classic release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:13. MPAA rating: R (for violence and some language).
Sophie - Courteney Cox
Hugh - James Le Gros
Jesse - Michael Ealy
Dr. Fayn - Nora DunnCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times