Title: Eye of the Beholder
Play time: 1h 49min
Director: Stephan Elliott
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd, Patrick Bergin
“There isn’t a day in my life when I haven’t felt like a fraud. I mean priests, doctors, I’ve talked to them all. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt that.”
Eye of the Beholder (1999): Ashley Judd Name, Saves The Movie at Box Office
Eye of the Beholder is one of those films that sits on the shelf for months until the studio decides to quickly dump it into theaters so as to get rid of it. Aussie auteur Stephan Elliott, who made the cult hit Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, directs this good-looking but incomprehensible thriller that may get by at the box-office because of Ashley Judd’s ability to draw a crowd but audiences are sure to be left feeling disappointed and cheated by this “surreal” actioner. There was probably some intended meaning behind this hullabaloo of nonsensical imagery, but somehow it all gets lost.
Film Summary & Critique: Eye of the Beholder
Ewan McGregor, starring in his second movie in a row where he doesn’t get to strip naked, plays a British Embassy agent known only as The Eye. He is instructed to follow his boss’s son; what he sees instead is a mysterious woman (Judd) brutally kill a man while muttering something about her father. The Eye is a troubled soul, visited by visions of his daughter whom his wife took away from him. He’s intrigued by this apparent femme fatale and when she runs, he follows.
The Eye watches as this woman dupes a rich blind man out of his money and starts her own psychic business. He uses his high-tech gadgetry to see her neary 24 hours a day. He follows her everywhere she goes. Then he does something bad and our emotional connection with him is broken. From there on out, Eye of the Beholder becomes a total mess. We lose track of what’s going on and Elliott wants it that way. He wants to be a cinematic Salvador Dali and fails miserably — we’re not engrossed in the film’s in-your-face eccentricity but are repelled by it. This is the most unaccessable Hollywood thriller I’ve seen in years, a movie that aims to confuse the audience.
Theoretically, Elliott knows how to stage a good thriller and despite Eye of the Beholder‘s incoherence, it looks and plays like a sleek, polished and professional production. The chase scenes are executed well, the soundtrack is dynamic and the camerawork is more than respectable. Unfortunately, Elliott has chosen to channel his film-making skills into a script unworthy of them. Some of the film’s most absurd scenes manage to elicit a visceral thrill merely because it’s helmed by a competent director.
Actors Saving Eye of the Beholder Movie, From its Terrible Script!
The burden of this failure can by no means be placed on the shoulders of its stars, both of whom do their damndest with the script they are given. Judd, coming off the rollicking success of Double Jeopardy, is quite good as the murderous temptress and McGregor is equally adept at playing a meek, confused version of Bond, James Bond. The fault is not with them as they are one of the film’s chief (and only) pleasures.
The whole movie is so vague and amorphous that we can’t help but expect a big payoff at the end; a revelation or a surprise to explain everything we’ve just seen. And then… nothing. The movie ends on precisely the same note of ambiguity, surrealism and slight pretention. This was obviously Elliott’s intention but it doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t work. I’m not the kind of guy who always wants everything to be crystal clear. I don’t crave a big, dumb, obvious shootout. Most of the time I love open endings. But this is absurd because it’s not an ending at all. Forget a sense of closure — Eye of the Beholder doesn’t even provide a beginning or a middle. The film has no legs to stand on when it comes to an open-ended conclusion so it crawls to it with disasterous results.