Monday, June 28, 2010
John Skillpa (Cillian Murphy) is a timid, socially-awkward bank clerk living in tiny Peacock, Nebraska who prefers to keep to himself. This might have to do with John’s secret: he has another personality no one knows about, a woman named Emma, who each morning does his chores and cooks for him before he starts his day. However, everything changes when a train derails into Skillpa’s backyard, exposing Emma to the curious neighbors, who assume “her” to be John’s wife. As John struggles to maintain control over his other personality as well as keep up the façade that she is his wife, his already disturbed psyche becomes further unbalanced.
Peacock is an above-average thriller, but I’ll tell you right now it definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s a slow, subtle character-study about a man with a fractured psyche that plays more of like a drama than a thriller (though it’s pretty darn suspenseful!). If you aren’t put off by languidly paced films, however, Peacock is an intensely psychological experience that I definitely found to be worth my while, despite its flaws.
The best thing about the film is no doubt Cillian Murphy’s amazing performances as both John and Emma. These are two completely separate people, with distinctly different ways of talking, walking and different personalities and facial tics, but Murphy makes them both believable and I even starting thinking of them as two separate people instead of one man. How Murphy didn’t receive more accolades for his performance is beyond me, because he is purely brilliant in this film.
Rounding out the cast are several other famous faces – Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman, Josh Lucas, Keith Carradine. Not even against these accomplished actors is Murphy’s performance diminished, though the other actors do a fine job as well. Page played the role of a desperate young mother, Carradine and Sarandon played the wealthy mayor and his wife, Lucas the town cop and Pullman the annoying boss at the bank. While each character adds another layer of complexity to the story, some of these extraneous characters felt like they weren’t really vital to the story. Perhaps the connection between some of these characters and John/Emma never really meshed for me, but something was a bit lacking in their development.
Nevertheless, the best parts of the film were when John/Emma went behind the others’ back to interact with the townsfolk. When Emma would approve something (like a political rally in the backyard), John would find out later and just lose it! John was so out-of-control that you came to prefer Emma’s cool-headed way of approaching problems, even if she was manipulative and calculating. As she slowly took over more and more of John’s life and became the more dominant personality, John really begins to panic and this unbalance creates a lot of tension and suspense.
Now, a lot of people have commented that it’s not at all believable that the townspeople couldn’t tell that John/Emma were the same person, and while watching the movie I tended to agree. However, looking back I realized that if Murphy’s performance was so convincing to me, I suppose it would also work on the townspeople. Plus, the two separate personalities had completely different ways of moving and speaking. However, I still think it would have been more believable if writers Michael Lander (who also directed) and Ryan Roy had just made Emma John’s sister or cousin. At least that way it would explain the striking resemblance between the two!
Despite this, I found myself getting sucked into the twisted, dreary story. Besides the fantastic performances, director Michael Lander creates a somber, post-Dustbowl era (the movie could be set anywhere from the 1930’s to the 1950’s) atmosphere. The film itself is beautifully filmed and its dark tones create a melancholy, ominous tone. Even the obligatory backstory of John being an abused little boy or the previously mentioned flaws didn’t really sully the hauntingly filmed movie.
Peacock doesn’t work all the time, but if you are looking for a sophisticated, tense psychological film it is worth checking out!
Available from Amazon!