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Samantha Morton made quite an impression in 2002 as Agatha, the wide-eyed precog in Minority Report. Her face, with a look of rapture and intensity that recalled Maria Falconetti's Joan in The Passion of Joan of Arc, stared up out of a pool of water into psychic visions of horror and violence. Our hearts went out to her.
In Morvern Callar (Cowboy Pictures), Morton again lies with her head half-submerged, staring up into her anxieties. This time, though, she's cowering in her bathtub, traumatized by her boyfriend's suicide. She feels directionless, void. Having only shallow friendships to speak of, and now abandoned by the man who didn't think her worth living for, she is ruined and speechless, as though someone had pulled the plug out from her spirit and ambition. What she then proceeds to do is hardly admirable. And yet, her reckless adventures in denial follow a twisted sort of logic, and contain more than a hint of vengeful anger.
Morton's performance recalls Emily Watson's work in Breaking the Waves—it's a case of an actress so submerged in a captivating character that you can't take your eyes off of her. The technical achievement is arresting, but the story she inhabits grows less and less compelling the farther it meanders from its shocking start. The film fails to explore sufficiently just how her little rebellions affect her. Are they helping her grieve and move past her humiliation and loss? Or are they slowly ruining what sanity she has left?
With a stronger plot and a modicum of moral conviction, director Layne Ramsey might have made a knockout short film. At 97 minutes, it feels almost 20 minutes too long.
"Is she heartless, crazy, or what?" asks Roger Ebert. "I think the answer is right there in the film." He proceeds to offer a compelling argument for the motives behind Morvern's behavior. But Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) is not so intrigued: "Ramsey … creates a mood of swank amorality, glorifying Morvern without ever quite penetrating her blank facade, the void filled only by a great soundtrack and the oblique suggestion that getting away with it is a punkette's prerogative in a man's cruel world."
from Film Forum, 08/07/03
At the Matthews House Project, Stef Loy writes about the films of Lynne Ramsey, especially her latest, Morvern Callar: "Ramsay tells more tales with the majestic power of the picture than any typewritten script could ever fully describe." He sums up her continuing theme as "A generation searching for something spiritual but finding only a void."