The Eyes Have It

All the acting shines, but O'Hara courageously plumbs her character's darkness. Wilson portrays the repressed, conflicted Dorian, showing his struggles subtly with face and body. Most of all, Barrymore shines like a sunbeam whose lush loveliness radiates heat and light in the semidarkness.

Occasionally the film goes over its edge, notably in a wild scene in Burger-Matic. This satisfying satire of fast-food culture has one gun too many and grabs at laughs with uncharacteristic crudeness. The climactic scene may seem over the top to some; on the other hand, the film has carefully laid the psychological groundwork for this intensity.

So bring your appetite and hang on to your hat. Home Fries serves a zesty and nourishing all-American meal.

-- Susan Waugh

Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky

In our role as guides -- orienting viewers to new filmic territory by citing familiar reference points -- critics will inevitably describe the wondrous The Inheritors as an Austrian Western, and that's a valid comparison for a tragicomedy whose primary conflict is a territorial dispute, a blood feud over land that evokes American-frontier tussles between cattle barons and homesteading farmers. The key difference here is that The Inheritors is populated more by Marxmen than shootists: The movie isn't just a struggle between big guys and little guys, both of whom are essentially entrepreneurs, but between the moneyed elite and a proletarian collective. It's a critique of capitalism, if not quite a communist manifesto, and the conclusions it draws are bleak.

Before The Inheritors reaches its ominously clouded end, however, it provides plenty of sunny entertainment. The film begins with a death -- and the subdued Old Master lighting of the film, by cinematographer Peter Von Haller, clearly portends an eventual movement into darkness -- but the movie treats the murder of tyrannical landowner Hillinger and its surprising consequences as playful, almost farcical comedy. Done in by a mysterious old woman (Elisabeth Orth), sardonic Hillinger plays one last meanspirited joke on his greedy rival farmers -- who eagerly anticipate buying his land -- by willing his estate to his much-abused peasant workers. This seemingly altruistic gesture is anything but: Not only does Hillinger gig his fellow gentry, but he believes his farmhands will squabble among themselves, losing both their class solidarity and eventually their inheritance.

At first, Hillinger's dire predictions appear all too accurate, with the workers splitting into rival factions, but once the co-opted foreman (Tilo Pruckner) and his followers exit the group, the seven remaining "inheritors" -- derisively called the one-seventh farmers -- work together to achieve unexpected success. The Inheritors is at its happiest during this period of blissful communal effort. Lukas (the delightful Simon Schwarz), a likably goofy orphan who's spent his entire life on the farm, makes a naive attempt to assert his patriarchal authority, but he's slapped down by his strong-willed lover, Emmy (Sophie Rois), who insists on equal rights among all, men and women, and soon the farm hums as an efficient cooperative. This affront to the natural top-down order enrages the neighboring farmers, led by the threatening Danninger (Ulrich Wildgruber), and the story inexorably moves toward its grim end, with violent clashes and dramatic revelations, death and exile.

Writer/director Stefan Ruzowitzky negotiates this U-turn into tragedy with skilled dexterity, smoothly shifting moods, provoking thought (and earned emotion) as deftly as he elicits laughter. And although it carries clear social and political messages, The Inheritors never seems freighted with a burdensome anti-capitalist agenda: It remains a story, not a tract, and it's peopled with complex, winningly flawed characters, not simplistic representatives of the warring classes (Wildgruber even lends Danninger an evil grandeur). The Inheritors proves one of the richest offerings of a somewhat impoverished year.

Opens Nov. 27 at the Plaza Frontenac.
-- Cliff Froehlich

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