Jane Eyre 2011 ★★★½

I'm a huge sucker for 19th century period films when they're done right, and Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre adaptation is, for my money, the finest one to be released since Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice. Fukunaga was an inspired directorial choice for a work like this, his only previous feature being the Mexican crime saga Sin Nombre, and he couldn't have fit the part better. He nails the enchanting beauty that make period films so enthralling for me, but he also hits all of the aspects that make Jane Eyre unique from other films of it's type. The powerful feminist statement is well in tact without being overbearing and Fukunaga nails the eerie, chilling mystery aspect of Eyre without making the film uneven.

Fukunaga doesn't miss a beat when it comes to the multiple realms the film digs into. In one five minute period we can go from a tense drama about the unconventional sexual desires of two people to the intrigue of a man with a secret to a paranoia horror where something is lurking behind the wall. Most directors would fail miserably at trying to capture all of these different tones, but Fukunaga somehow creates one tone that simultaneously captures every aspect of the story. Nothing feels out of place and everything is equally compelling.

While Fukunaga delivers in every single way, it's no surprise that rising stars Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender are what make the film. Wasikowska plays the titular role with fearless grace, she plays it entirely unselfconscious, stripping her down to the bare woman she is and building a developed, strong woman. She makes every scene interesting, constantly working Eyre's thoughts and emotions just underneath the surface, not afraid to let them out but of the belief that if she let them out they wouldn't really matter. She captures that constant desire for something more than herself, a world where women have the same experience as men, and when Rochester gets introduced her desire for him is instantly recognized. For some reason in cinema it can often be hard to play a strong woman with ideas and desire without making her unlikable and annoying. Wasikowska doesn't tread into that territory for a moment. We are always on Jane's side, no matter what decision she makes, not through a bias in the story but because of how convincingly Wasikowska plays the role.

If you've followed me or have read my posts at all, you know that I am a massive fan of Michael Fassbender and any new performance of his is cause for celebration for me. So it's no small feat when I claim his work as Rochester to be his best performance so far, without a doubt. Rochester is a very hard role to pull off; he starts off as this powerful, looming, terrifying figure and slowly we have to be let in to this emotional, beaten soul with a dark secret. We have to first understand why he frightens Jane and then slowly understand why she falls in love with him. Fassbender pulls all of this sensationally; when we are first introduced to him he is immediately terrifying but even then we can tell that there is something underneath the surface. As Jane slowly unravels this hardened, tortured man, Fassbender becomes an almost tragic figure that we feel for deeply. His sexuality pours off the screen, and he's got more heart than he can contain in his chest. It's a very struggled, internal performance and Fassbender is phenomenal; then when he gets to let all of that pain and emotion come pouring out, we refuse to turn away for a moment. This is the kind of performance that sticks with you.

Individually they are both magnificent, but the real power of the film is when the two of them are on screen together. From the moment they meet, their sexual tension is palpable and my eyes were more than glued to the screen every time they were on it together. As the film progresses, their desires grow and it slowly becomes harder and harder for the two to keep their emotions in check. They're bursting at the seams, but the two actors are marvelous at making almost everything internal until the appropriate moment to let them out. And I'll try not to spoil anything, but when that moment comes it is absolutely overwhelming. The film brought me to tears three specific times, two with joy and one with absolute devastation. It's a marvelous work that brought intense emotion out of me, thanks in large part to these performances and a story that keeps most of it's emotion stuck underneath until it reaches a boiling point. I've heard some people complain about the ending, declaring it abrupt, but I felt it to be the perfect way to finalize such a beautiful, magnetic work. In fact, I think it was the only way to end it; and boy did the tears roll down for me.

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