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Cinema Junkie by Beth Accomando

Public housing is the unlikely catalyst that stirs turbulent emotions within two very different families in the new film The Architect (opening December 8 at Landmarks Hillcrest Cinemas). Anthony LaPaglia and Isabella Rossellini star.

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Anthony LaPaglia stars as The Architect.

Leo Waters (Anthony LaPaglia) is an architect and teacher who prides himself on creating buildings that will have a positive impact on people and their community. So his ego is a bit bruised when Eden Court, a public housing project he designed early in his career, becomes the center of a controversy. Tonya Neeley (Viola Davis) is an activist living in Waters Eden Court, which has now become rundown and crime infested. She feels that the token funds the government is willing to put into the buildings will amount to little more than a minor facelift. It would allow the politicians to feel like they had done something when in reality the real problems plaguing the poor and densely populated community would not be addressed.

Neeley comes to Waters' class to ask the architect to sign a petition to tear down the old buildings so something new can be built. To Waters, signing the petition is like admitting that the buildings were badly designed, and he can't do that. But Waters wife Julia (Isabella Rossellini) is moved by Neeleys plea and urges her husband to sign. This only enrages her husband and intensifies the growing rift in their marriage. While the adults square off, the children also find themselves in conflicts of their own. Neeleys daughter cant understand her mothers need to remain in the projects while the Waters son and daughter try to decide on courses for their own lives.

Architect 2

Viola Davis stars in The Architect.

Writer-director Matt Tauber adapts The Architect from David Greigs stage play, and opens it up to make Chicago one of the characters. But while he tries to capture some of the architecture of the city, he fails to convey much about the design of Waters own home. In failing to do that, the film misses an opportunity to convey something about the man. Waters talks about the importance of form and function in designing a building and Tauber could have paid a little more heed to that in the way he designs and executes his film. Tauber wants to construct his story with a certain sense of symmetry and contrast. We have two families but one is black and poor while the other is white and rich. We have two sets of parents and children in which the head of the family in each proves to be stubborn and wrapped up in his or her own passion to the point of keeping others out. But Tauber, in trying to set up these twin tales that intersect, makes the opening of the film distractingly choppy as it moves back and forth between the stories and families.

Architect 3

Isabella Rossellini in The Architect.

Like Neeley, the film works very hard and with very little humor as it presents its case. But in trying to put a broad array of social issues on the table, The Architect becomes somber and strained. Everyone moves through the film with a seriousness that weighs the film down with self-importance. The children come across as especially contrived to suit the needs of the films plot and themes. Only Rossellinis anxious wife, whos ready to snap, comes across as vivid.

The films stiffness comes more from Taubers script and direction rather than from the performers. Rossellini, with only a few scenes, is particularly effective in conveying the nervous pacing of a woman who feels increasingly enclosed in her affluent life. LaPaglia is an unyielding man who has a core decency thats tainted by a large ego. Davis is asked to hit essentially one somber note throughout but she hits it with deep conviction.

The Architect (rated R for language and sexual content) is an all too earnest attempt to cover socially relevant issues. As Sam Goldwyn used to say If you want to send a message, use Western Union.

Companion viewing: The Sketches of Frank Gerhy,Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Sunshine State

UQVFP1
January 10, 2007 at 12:43 AM
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