CHILLING OUT

“Innocence has always been my position,” says Jeremy Irons as the snobbish vampire Claus von Bülow to his defense team, headed by Ron Silver as famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, in Barbet Schroeder’s Reversal of Fortune. Based on Dershowitz’s account of his successful reversal of von Bülow’s original conviction of attempting to murder his high society wife Sunny back in 1980, Iron’s verbatim declaration earns him the crown for giving the star performance of 1990. Unfortunately, Irons will probably never be a megastar: longsuited as the quintessential snit from across the Atlantic, he doesn’t have the kind of cinematic charisma to win over large numbers of moviegoers. And this isn’t the role to win them over even if he had some. (Irons had somewhat the same problem in the based-on-fact Dead Ringers: his performances as the twin psychos put such fear into the privates of female viewers that not only was he unjustly denied an Oscar nomination, he may have inadvertently set back the need for gynecological checkups.) The chilled-out, postured indifference of the real Cambridge-educated von Bülow (who was born Claus Cecil Borberg in Copenhagen in 1926, to a mother whose maiden name was Bülow—Claus added “von” himself—and to a father who was considered sympathetic to the Nazis) is probably too uppity-phony for most Americans to take: there’s no way to warm up to him, which may be the reason he was convicted in the first place, in what appears now to have been a frame-up. The only way to play this ghoul—who has been rumored to have dabbled in necrophilia—is with haughty comic detachment, and what we get from Irons is the most sophisticated let-in-bleed assault on drollness we’ve seen since any you-name-it performance by John Gielgud. Irons caricatures von Bülow with such tongue-in-cheek dazzle that we can’t get a fix—if he’s so great that, in the hip meaning, he’s bad, or if he’s so bad in the original definition that he’s great. That we’re never sure is Iron’s triumph. Likewise, no one knows exactly what happened in the von Bülow affair, and the movie stays clear of attempting a definitive explanation of the circumstances surrounding Sunny’s unexplained unconsciousness. But it does ask—in a most entertaining fashion demanding we call the script 1990’s best—two main questions: Did beautiful nincompoop-druggie Sunny plan a de riguer felo de se? Did Claus coax it along? In a marvellous, sly narrative summation, belying as well as capping off her effective zombie of a Sunny, Glenn Close tells the audience that we’ll never know what happened until we get to where she’s at—in a coma. (Sunny remained in one for 28 years, dying in December, 2008.) Close’s adieu, in fact the whole sordid mess, shouldn’t be at all funny; nevertheless, as reflection of the current social soullessness, it’s a scream.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  (Revised 7/2013) All Rights Reserved.