By Simon Fuller
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Fish Out of Water

This article is over 17 years, 4 months old
Review of 'The Life and Times of Peter Sellers', director Stephen Hopkins and 'Open Water', director Chris Kentis
Issue 288

The Life and Times of Peter Sellers is an often ingenious and quirky biopic of a great comic actor who was definitely of the bad, mad and dangerous to know variety. It charts the life of this highly complex and neurotic actor from his times performing in the 1950s radio show The Goon Show, where, in his words, he was worried about ending up as a ‘ringmaster in a circus of twits’, to international stardom in the Pink Panther movies, where millions creased up to his dodgy impersonation of a hapless French detective. Geoffrey Rush puts in a stellar performance as Sellers, at home impersonating his own mother, father and wife, as well as the key performances of his turbulent career. Many would find Sellers’ bravura performance in Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove… unforgettable – the peak of his film career.

Alas, Sellers was quite frankly an unlikeable man, so puffed up with his own self-worth and ambition that he’s totally inconsiderate to those around him (according to the film, this is due to a pushy mother played by the brilliant Miriam Margolyes). So he announces to his wife (Emily Watson) and startled small children around the kitchen table that he’s abandoning them because he loves another woman more than he loves them. Yet his superannuated male ego cannot cope with his wife’s open affair. Years later his new wife, Britt Eckland (Charlize Theron), leaves him because he’s a wife beater and all round selfish pig.

The film does try to elucidate some interpretation for Sellers’ life: how he felt that he was some kind of absent centre, a man without character, needing a part to fill his vacant personality. But this is one of those biopics which focuses on the ‘genius as madman’ theme, a narrative isolated from society, which gives this a curiously airless quality. Oddly, this film is rarely funny and offers few insights. The director has huge fun recreating ritzy, swinging 1960s and 1970s Hollywood life, entering the Day-Glo fantasy world of this spoilt, rich man-child. But just as Rush delights in mimicking a mimic this movie remains all on the surface of things – in love with only the simulacrum of Sellers and his life.

Open Water is a latter-day lo-fi Jaws, bringing to life an apocryphal story that plays into our deep fears. It may be a pared and scaled down terror pic, but it has its own inimitable thrill quotient due to its digital home movie camera style.

An ordinary workaholic yuppie couple take a weekend break diving in the Caribbean. They sail out with others to dive but get separated from the group. In the vast loneliness of the sea they remain ever hopeful that the boat will return to pick them up, not for once thinking that nature will interfere in their tourist industry vision of a sea untroubled by serious danger. But nature bites back – and how. Marauding sharks scent blood and surely and ineluctably move in for their evening meal. And guess who’s on the menu!

In a fresh departure from the usual horror thrillers this has a guy in peril: panicking, crying, losing control. He may be a guy with all the knowledge, but it’s his calm girlfriend who has the courage and thoughtfulness to help in his moment of dire need. Notwithstanding occasional longwindedness, it does play into the dread of being left alone at the mercy of nature red in tooth and claw. It’s a popcorn in the lap genuinely scary movie with a very dark denouement. Anxiety-inducing stuff indeed, but too minimalist in scale to work as a movie with the kind of complexity that could make it more memorable.

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