b.Monkey (Michael Radford, 1998)
[originally posted 16May2001]
Michael Radford is one of those directors whose work gets a lot of press, but no one ever thinks to ask who the guy behind the camera was. From the 1984 version (starring John Hurt) of Nineteen Eighty-Four to the Oscar-winning Il Postino, Radford has quietly built an impressive body of work.
Radford’s follow-up to Il Postino is b.Monkey, a crime-drama-cum-romance based on Andrew Davies’ amusing novel about a young criminal lass (played here by the delectable Asia Argento) who tries to break free of her small-time criminal pals (rising stars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Rupert Everett) after meeting, and being wooed by, a primary school teacher (the ubiquitous Jared Harris) who is the very essence of stolid middle-class morality.
Don’t get me wrong—the main reason to watch this movie is Asia Argento, who (as I’ve said before) has since turning eighteen adopted the “early Helen Mirren” style of acting—wear nothing but a come-hither glower and look really good. But if you can get your tongue off the floor, both Everett and Rhys-Meyers give us performances that show exactly why they’re becoming two of the hottest properties on the British film scene. Everett is charming and urbane, even while being tracked down by a psychotic crime boss; Rhys-Meyers throw temper tantrums with the best of them, but slides into a cool professionalism when it’s time to pull off a heist.
A gorgeous (if somewhat slow halfway through—it does pick up, honest) way to kill an hour and a half. *** ½