Directed by Jane Campion
Review by Matt Heffernan
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)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan