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New Release Review - BY THE SEA

A couple attempt save their marriage on a mediterranean vacation.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Angelina Jolie

Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Melanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Arestrup, Richard Bohringer


Remember how back in the day, music videos would sometimes have movies built around them (Michael Jackson's Thriller the most famous of them all)? Well, By the Sea feels like someone had the same idea for a perfume commercial, but this fragrance stinks!




For her third directorial outing, Angelina Jolie works from her own screenplay for a far more intimate drama than last year's WWII epic Unbroken. She also directs her husband, Brad Pitt, for the first time, with Pitt and Jolie playing a troubled onscreen couple, much like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Cruise and Kidman's relationship didn't last too long after that movie, but maybe that was because it was a little too insightful. Such insight is notably absent from By the Sea - a movie which claims to be a love letter to European cinema, but plays out like a grubby seaside postcard - so Pitt and Jolie (or Jolie-Pitt as she cynically credits herself here) should be safe.
Jane Birkin warbles on the soundtrack as Pitt's Roland, a struggling writer, and Jolie's former dancer Vanessa arrive via sportscar at a scenic locale on the French south coast. We quickly learn their relationship is in trouble; unable to write, Roland spends his days drunk at a nearby bar, while the miserable Vanessa lounges and pouts on the balcony in a variety of designer dresses. When a newlywed French couple (Melanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) take the room next door, Vanessa discovers a spyhole and becomes obsessed with watching her randy neighbours, eventually coaxing Roland into joining in with her voyeurism.
Remember how back in the day, music videos would sometimes have movies built around them (Michael Jackson's Thriller the most famous of them all)? Well, By the Sea feels like someone had the same idea for a perfume commercial, but this fragrance stinks! Take the world's most glamourous couple, stick them in some beautiful surroundings and knock together a paper thin premise seems to be the thinking behind Jolie's movie.
The central couple is comprised of two of the most unlikeable characters we've seen in recent times. There's a chicken/egg question as to whether Roland behaves like a cad because of his wife's withdrawn coldness, or vice versa. We know there was an incident in the past that ruined their relationship, but without being privy to the exact details, it's impossible to sympathise with either character. When the big reveal arrives at the movie's end, it's so predictable that the surprise comes from Jolie's lack of originality. Some slight reprieve is found in the brief appearances of the always watchable Niels Arestrup, playing a widowed bar owner, but his dialogue is as hackneyed as the rest of the cast's.
Three movies in and it's difficult to assess Jolie's abilities as a filmmaker. Like Unbroken, the standout from By the Sea is the cinematography, here supplied by Michael Haneke's regular DP Christian Berger. With the Coen Brothers providing the script and Roger Deakins the visuals for her previous movie, it's clear Jolie can pull in some high profile collaborators. How she could have used one to polish her turd of a script here.
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