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Fifty Shades of Grey - DVD Review

Fifty Shades of Grey

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

FOR an ‘event’ movie, Fifty Shades of Grey is curiously uneventful… a slick but muddled affair that’s high on romance but low on anything really edgy. If anything, it’s audiences who may feel violated.

Sam Taylor-Johnson directs with a softly, softly touch that negates any of the air of anticipation surrounding this big screen adaptation of EL James’ S&M-laced romance novel.

Admittedly, the decision to focus on the ‘relationship’ rather than the sex proves wise but as a film, this is all build up and no climax. Just when things start to get interesting on a cerebral level, Taylor-Johnson pulls the plug.

But then Fifty Shades of Grey was largely doomed to fail from the outset. Ardent fans of the books harder, more graphic elements were always going to cry foul of the film’s failure to put them all on screen… but then who would want to see endless scenes of spanking and domination anyway? Surely, that would just be exploitative, or even pornographic.

Rather than go there, Taylor-Wood’s film opts to explore the characters more, if not their motivations.

Hence, Dakota Johnson plays the virginal college student Anastasia Steele who begins to fall under the spell of ‘enigmatic’ billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), only to discover that beneath the charming veneer is a troubled soul who gets his kicks from sado-masochism.

But rather than opting for anything too dark, the film seems more interested in the romantic elements and lacks the edge to prevent it from feeling dull. Early on, the romance feels like something that might belong in a teen romance mixed with the wish fulfilment of a Pretty Woman or the high-end sophistication of a Thomas Crown Affair (as evidenced by two ‘seduction’ scenes involving flying in high priced toys).

The S&M element is only ever in the background… a place where Grey would like Steele to go – but something she, in turn, keeps him [and us] waiting for. Once there, it’s more gentle heavy petting than anything really eye-opening, until Steele asks for Grey to do his worst in a bid to understand him more.

It’s here that the fractured psychology of the Grey character threatens to become exposed and yet it’s also here that the film suddenly ends. Audiences are left dangling yet, ironically, not really wanting to see more. If anything, there’s a sense of relief that it’s over.

And then comes the realisation that – like a bad relationship – you’ve been used and maybe even abused. This is, after all, a big Hollywood blockbuster that’s looking to kick-start a franchise. As such, there’s no attempt to finish the story or offer any closure. It’s an opening chapter and not a very compelling one at that.

It’s also a film that keeps its eye firmly on the cash potential, as further evidenced by the high profile pop songs that accompany every sex scene (including the two scenes of S&M). And it’s here that the superficiality of the whole endeavour really becomes exposed, with serious issues such as sexual power and control, the debilitating effects of child abuse and even the degradation of women (perhaps unsurprisingly we see more of Johnson than we do of Dornan) flung by the wayside; glossed over with soft-core lighting and mood music to make us feel titillated rather than absorbed or even part of a worthwhile debate.

The only real surprises come in the form of Taylor-Johnson as director (she at least makes the film look attractive) and the quality of the performances from both Johnson and Dornan, the former of whom really makes a strong impression with her handling of the limited material. She has range and her talents will hopefully be more gainfully employed in better films than this.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 2hrs 5mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 22, 2015