Holy Smoke

Directed by Jane Campion
Starring: Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel, Pam Grier, Julie Hamilton, Sophie Lee.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
February 14, 2000

In 1993, New Zealand director Jane Campion finally made it big in America with The Piano: a lovely film that received great acclaim and turned Harvey Keitel into a romantic lead -- two incredible tasks. Now she re-teams with Keitel, to make a film for Miramax with her sister Anna (a successful filmmaker in her own right).

Ruth (Kate Winslet), a girl from suburban Sydney, travels to India to follow a mystical guru. Her mother (Julie Hamiltion) is afraid that she has joined a dangerous cult, so she convinces Ruth to come home. Ruth plans on returning to India as soon as possible to join in a mass marriage with the guru. Her parents have another plan: hire a "cult exiter" to keep her from doing it.

They find P.J. Waters (Keitel), an American who has handled many cases such as this. He takes Ruth to a remote hut for a three-day deprogramming. It just turns out that Ruth needs more to be deprogrammed than her mind.

Even at 60 years old, Keitel shows that he can still bring great sexual energy to the screen. Although, it does appear that his leading ladies keep getting younger (consider that Winslet was an infant when he molested Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver). The rest of the cast also give winning performances, especially Hamilton who really brings her paranoid "Mum" to life.

Campion had some interesting ideas for bringing this story to the screen, but there were a few problems. Unlike The Piano, not all parts of Holy Smoke made literal sense. When things become bizarre, she is unable to make it work. Instead, most of the second half becomes disjointed, and the characters start to slip away. The actors do their best, but maintaining credibility becomes impossible, and these well-established characters are no longer interesting.

So, this is yet another failed effort at baiting awards for Miramax. The Academy likes Campion, but don't look for any nominations tomorrow. This film will only alienate most of the voters and anybody else looking for another Piano.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Holy Smoke (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Holy Smoke (1999) -- VHS
Holy Smoke (1999) -- DVD
Holy Smoke, a novel by Anna Campion and Jane Campion -- Hardcover
Holy Smoke, a novel by Anna Campion and Jane Campion -- Paperback
Holy Smoke: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan