Film Reviews: Wednesday, February 2, 2005
Hide and Seek
Starring Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning. Directed by John Polson. Written by Ari Schlossberg. Rated R.
Jekyll and Hide

Is last week’s box-office champ any good? Yes and no, no, no.


You’ve probably seen the tv commercial with Robert De Niro fronting for American Express, which has created a bit of a buzz about the issue of whether he’s selling out. More people aren’t talking about this because they’ve seen De Niro’s movies lately, so they know that the commercial is more entertaining than any film he’s been in since Jackie Brown, seven years and change ago. The trend holds true for his latest movie, Hide and Seek, even though it topped the box-office charts last week, and even though it tries to do something different.
He plays a psychologist named David Callaway, and as the movie begins he’s dealing with the suicide of his wife (Amy Irving) by picking up their daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) and their belongings and moving upstate from New York City. Soon after they settle into their house in the countryside, Emily tells her dad about her imaginary new friend, Charlie. The girl’s spirits start to pick up around Charlie, but worrying signs appear. Her favorite doll turns up in the trash with a mutilated face. Then something similar happens to the cat. Every time something bad transpires, Emily’s standing behind Daddy with a blank expression on her face. When she’s asked, she blames it on Charlie.
It’s a good setup, and the movie runs with it interestingly for an hour. First-time screenwriter Ari Schlossberg doles out the unsettling details judiciously, and Australian director John Polson avoids overemphasis (something he had trouble with in his last thriller, Swimfan). Fanning, like many Hollywood kid actors with too much un-kid-like poise, has been unintentionally creepy in some of her past roles, but this one renders her creepy by design, and it’s quite effective. The movie’s most memorable image is of the look of cold shock in her eyes as she stares out the window of a nursery school shortly after her mother’s death.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers write themselves into a corner. The solution to the mystery of Charlie’s identity isn’t just grossly manipulative. It also doesn’t tally with the clues that have been left behind, and it leads to a long-drawn-out climactic sequence that ropes in all the supporting characters. It’s ridiculous, in the same way (though not to the same degree) as last fall’s psychological thriller The Forgotten. What is it with these films that set themselves up so beautifully and stumble so badly in the payoff? Do they look good on paper and get messed with in production? Or do the filmmakers go in with something half-baked, figuring they’ll come up with a better ending during the shoot? Whatever your opinion of M. Night Shyamalan, at least he thinks his movies all the way through.
On top of all this, it’s yet another movie that scores cheap points by putting Fanning’s character in jeopardy, like the loathsome Man on Fire and Trapped. (Do her parents hate her? There’s something weird about how she keeps getting into roles where adults threaten her life.) This sort of pandering is a major reason why Hide and Seek, despite its cleverness, leaves such a foul taste behind.

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